MANILA - The National Food Authority failed to fulfill its mandate to buy rice from local farmers and sell the grain at an affordable price to consumers, Senator Cynthia Villar said Tuesday.
The agency faced abolition calls last week after a rice shortage forced a state of calamity in Zamboanga City while some 130,000 sacks of government-subsidized rice was found infested with "bukbok" or weevils in Subic Bay.
The NFA has funds to buy rice from farmers at P17 per kilo, mill it and sell it at P27 to P32 -- cheaper than commercial grain retailing for P43 to P55 per kilo, said Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food.
However, the agency last year diverted billions of pesos from its budget to pay off maturing loans instead of using funds to buy grain, said the senator, citing a Commission on Audit report.
"I guess they failed in their mandate," Villar told radio DZMM.
The NFA had encountered delays in unloading rice at its warehouses, where stocks have been depleted since March. Remaining supplies are "very limited," preventing the agency from influencing market prices, NFA administrator Rex Estoperez said.
"Walang naiiwan sa atin so dependent tayo sa padating na importation," he said in a separate DZMM interview.
(We have no more stocks so we are dependent on the upcoming importation.)
The NFA and National Bureau of Investigation have created a task force to ensure that rice traders are not hoarding rice to spike prices, said Estoperez.
Villar said she would sponsor a bill imposing tariffs on rice imports in place of quotas, which is expected to bring down the staple's prices and tame inflation.
The House of Representatives earlier this month approved the measure that was certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte during his third State of the Nation Address.
Villar said she would push for a provision that would set up a P10-billion fund to help farmers become more competitive in mechanization and choosing better seeds.
If the bill is approved, it will be up to the Department of Finance to determine whether or not the NFA will still be necessary, she added.