Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao said a joint resolution would be filed at the House, allocating additional budget for the grains agency to buy more local palay at a higher price.
Michael Varcas
Lawmakers want P10 billion supplemental budget for NFA
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Legislators from the House of Representatives are pushing for a P10-billion supplemental budget for the state-run National Food Authority (NFA) for the procurement of local palay in time for the main harvest season in the fourth quarter.

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Ariel Casilao said a joint resolution would be filed at the House, allocating additional budget for the grains agency to buy more local palay at a higher price.

The resolution is also backed by representatives from Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, Alliance of Concerned Teachers and Kabataan party-list groups.

“The intention is to procure additional palay worth P10 billion, which is about 700,000 metric tons of palay in favor of local farmers at P22 per kilogram,” Casilao told reporters.

“If the NFA has the capacity to buy the produce of the farmers, that will break the monopoly and chain where the farmers are tied with traders,” he added.

The NFA has been failing to buy local palay due to the higher prices offered by private traders compared with its support price of P17 per kg, which was among the factors that led to the depletion of its stocks several months ago.

Latest data from the agency showed it has only bought 79,858 bags as of end-July, just three percent of its target 2.6 million bags for the entire 2018.

The NFA had already slashed its original target for the year of six million bags following the continued increase in prices and the repeated rejection of its proposal to increase its palay buying price.

“The timing of the proposal falls under the harvest season where you expect supply to be available. The question is who will get that supply, the traders or the NFA?” Casilao said.

The NFA starts buying during the summer harvest season but bulk of the procurement volume is expected to be bought starting October until December as the main harvest season contributes 70 percent to the country’s total annual harvest.

Casilao will also meet with Sen. Grace Poe to urge a similar Senate version of the resolution to ensure faster progress of the proposal.

“We will request expeditious deliberation of this measure due to the urgency and necessity of the situation now. We can do this in two months,” he said.

The country’s economic managers have several times rejected the proposal to increase NFA’s buying price as the move was said to be inflationary.

“No one would believe that anymore. When TRAIN 1 was deliberated, we had already warned that this would impact greatly on inflation. We based our fear on the concrete conditions on the ground and that is what’s happening now,” Casilao said.

Even if both chambers would approve the P10-billion supplemental budget, the decision would still depend on the economic team as the Department of Budget and Management would be the one to determine where the funds would come from.

“If they don’t want it, the problem is with them. We did our part and if they don’t want to take some actions, they are the ones showing that they do not want to do it for our farmers. And that is the limitation of our legislative powers,” he added.

‘National catastrophe’

As this developed, efforts by the government to help cushion the impact of soaring prices of rice resulted in a “national catastrophe” when the NFA decided to divert its stabilization fund for debt repayment, according to an administration lawmaker.

“That great blunder done via the fund diversion led to rice shortage and the long rice queues and the perception that the government has done a terrible job with the rice supply stabilization work,” Butil party-list Rep. Cecil Chavez said of NFA’s P5.1-billion fund.

She made the remarks during a budget briefing, insisting that the fund should not have been diverted because the NFA is mandated to deposit this under its Cereal Procurement Fund for palay procurement and stabilization of the country’s rice supply.

If only the NFA did the right thing and spent the money as mandated by law, then the Filipinos would not have suffered from high prices of the staple and have a scarcity of rice in the market, not to mention the existence of weevil-infected or bukbok rice. – With Delon Porcalla

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