Duterte denies there is rice shortage in Philippines

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte denies there is rice shortage in Philippines
Militant groups protest in front of the House of Representatives in Quezon City yesterday, criticizing the National Food Authority’s dependence on rice importation.
Boy Santos

JERUSALEM – President Duterte yesterday denied that the Philippines is facing a rice shortage as he chided his critics for politicizing the issue. 

Duterte said the country has more than enough supply of the staple, a major agricultural crop of the country. 

“They are saying there is rice shortage. We have lots of rice. Some of them are set to arrive. Now there’s even an excess,” the President said during a meeting with the Filipino community here. “You know, those are politics. But I would like to remind you that I won because of the vote of the Filipino.”

The National Food Authority and the interagency NFA Council blamed each other for the lack of cheap rice that led to price spikes in some parts of the country. 

NFA deputy administrator Tomas Escare told a House hearing last week that his agency asked the council in October last year to allow the importation of one million metric tons of rice, a request that was approved only last May. 

But NFA Council member and trade undersecretary Ruth Castelo disputed the claim, saying the delay was caused by the NFA’s failure to provide information on its inventory. 

Last month, the local government of Zamboanga City declared a state of calamity after rice prices rose to P70 per kilo because of the lack of supply. Price spikes were also reported in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces.

Duterte had said he was ready to order government forces to raid rice warehouses to prevent a shortage of the staple. He also allowed the entry of rice from small traders in Malaysia to address the shortage in those provinces.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said the President wanted to alleviate the lack of sufficient supply and soften the impact of high rice prices there. 

He said rice coming from Malaysia will be subjected to tariffs, although he did not mention whether these will be passing through trading posts, which was earlier recommended by the agriculture department.

The spokesman added that 152,000 metric tons of rice is due to arrive and, when coupled with the expected rice harvest in the country, is expected to flood the market with supply.

Before leaving for Israel last Sunday, Duterte said he would not think twice about using the police powers of the state and the power of eminent domain against erring rice traders, referring to those who are hoarding supply to jack up prices.

Roque reiterated the President’s call to stop the artificial rice shortage, which is attributed to abusive traders.  

Not a solution

For Vice President Leni Robredo, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Manny Piñol and NFA officials led by administrator Jason Aquino should resign because of their “inability to manage the agency.”

Senators also said that raiding rice warehouses would neither solve the country’s rice shortage nor stabilize prices.

“The rice supply situation is a result of incompetence and corruption in the NFA that at this point cannot be solved by raiding warehouses. The solution is more than just going after traders when the NFA itself, through corruption and incompetence, caused the problem in the first place,” Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.

He added that until new imports come in and the local rice expected in October’s harvest are effectively distributed, “these raids will just be for show.”

Sen. Frank Drilon said raiding warehouses is just a band-aid solution.

“The long-term solution therefore is to provide support to our farmers,” Drilon added, as he urged the administration to prioritize the construction of agricultural infrastructure in its Build Build Build program.

But Sen. William Gatchalian welcomed Duterte’s plan to tap the police in strictly enforcing laws against rice smuggling and profiteering.

“The President is also correct in saying that the rice crisis may be attributed to a weak legal framework. This does not, however, absolve DA and NFA officials of their culpability in the ongoing rice crisis,” Gatchalian said.

At the House of Representatives, leaders have also called for the resignation of Piñol and Aquino because of their failure to address the spike in prices and the limited supply. – With Christina Mendez, Helen Flores, Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Louise Maureen Simeon, Rhodina Villanueva, Eva Visperas, Jack Castaño

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