People lining up at Pasig Mega Market for NFA rice sold at P32 per kilo with customers limited to buying up to 5 kilos each on Sept. 9, 2018.
The STAR/Michael Varcas
Fact check: Duterte says rice shortage 'artificial'
( - September 11, 2018 - 11:57pm

MANILA, Philippines — In a televised interview with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, President Rodrigo Duterte said rice shortage is "artificial" and blamed "man-made manipulation" for the problem, which in some areas, prompted the public to line up in markets just to secure their grains.

While the government did apprehend some rice smugglers in recent months, the root cause of the rice problem has been blamed on the failure of the government to timely import rice.

Rice, the country's main staple, accounts for nearly a tenth of the basket of basic goods and commodities a Filipino purchases. As a result, high rice prices have pushed inflation up to an over nine-year high of 6.4 percent in August.

The problem began in February when the state-led National Food Authority announced its buffer stock of cheap rice sold to the poor was only enough for two days, below the 15-day requirement.

Since then, Duterte has mandated imports of up to 500,000 metric tons, but nearly nine months after, only 350,000 MT have arrived, while NFA's buffer stock remains below minimum and ample only for four days. 

Without the cheaper alternative, the poor are forced to buy commercial rice, together with the rest of the population. This drives demand and pushes prices up.

Philippine Statistics Authority data show average retail prices of regular-milled rice rose 15.24 percent year-on-year in the last week of August. Those of well-milled rice went up 11.63 percent. Both are the fastest so far this year. 

While imports have indeed started to arrive, some of the shipments from Thailand were infested by weevil. The government said the infested grains are safe to eat after fumigation and no less than Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol cooked and ate some of it before the media, to prove the point.

The government has recently ordered importing more rice as it awaits other pending deliveries as well as the passage of the rice tariffication bill, which would remove annual limits on rice imports and replace them with tariffs on shipments.

The rice caps have been constantly set for more than two decades as a way to protect local farmers from cheaper imports. Under the bill, tariff proceeds will be used to fund local farmers to improve their harvests and allow them to compete with grains abroad. 

The bill was approved at the House of Representatives and is in advanced stages at the Senate.

In a related development, Duterte also said on Tuesday that NFA Administrator Jason Aquino has asked to be relieved amid calls for his resignation due to the rice problem.

Duterte said he would soon appoint a replacement to Aquino.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 11, 2018 - 4:28pm

Malacañang has canceled the national address that President Rodrigo Duterte was scheduled to give this afternoon.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque yesterday said the address was not final, yet the announcement was issued, prompting media organizations, schools and other relevant institutions to dedicate resources to monitor and cover the supposed event.

The Palace is yet to explain what led to the cancelation.

Instead, the president's communications team invited only state-run broadcast network PTV4, Palace reporters and other close-in writers to cover a tête-à-tête—similar to a talk show—between Duterte and his chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo.

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