NFA open to legalizing rice smugglersâ operations
The NFA Council and DA convened yesterday to address issues on rice supply and prices as well as approve a special import allocation.
Michael Varcas/File
NFA open to legalizing rice smugglers’ operations
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - August 30, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The National Food Authority (NFA) Council is considering the proposal of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to legalize the operations of traders currently engaged in rice smuggling in the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (Zambasulta) area.

The NFA Council and DA convened yesterday to address issues on rice supply and prices as well as approve a special import allocation.

“The council will form a team that will look into the legal aspect and all other things that need to be done,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol told reporters after the meeting. “It was agreed that smugglers... should pay taxes ... to become legal suppliers of rice in the region.”

The plan is part of the proposal to establish a rice trading center to allow the government to gain control of illegal rice trading in Zambasulta.

Zambasulta has relied on smuggled rice from Vietnam and Thailand which is brought into the country through Sabah.

The DA said around 200,000 MT of smuggled rice enter Zambasulta every year.

“Once you legalize something, it is no longer smuggling. Smuggling is bringing in imported goods without the necessary documents and quarantine services and without paying the necessary taxes,” Piñol said.

P2 billion revenues

The DA chief said the government is expected to earn around P2 billion in revenues every year with the proposal.

While legalizing smuggling is being eyed as a mid-term solution to the rice crisis, Piñol said Zambasulta committed to increase rice production to ensure a stable supply.

Zamboanga City has committed an initial 1,000 hectares for rice production and demonstration area while Tawi-Tawi has offered a 10,000-hectare area on Languyan island as its production area.

Sulu and Basilan have yet to submit their proposed rice production program and areas to be developed.

Stop blame game

Meanwhile, Malacañang said officials of the NFA and NFA Council should stop blaming each other on rice supply issues even as it demanded information on the rice inventory. 

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government could not import rice without the NFA inventory. 

“They should not blame each other... The bottomline is that the NFA Council handles policy-making, the NFA is tasked to fulfill the mandate of the NFA,” Roque said in an interview over dzRH. 

“We cannot import rice excessively. We spend P6 billion everytime we import. We cannot do it unless we know the status of the inventory of the NFA,” Roque added. 

He said the NFA Council should not be blamed for asking information about the NFA’s rice inventory. 

“It was clear during the debates that the NFA Council merely wanted to look at the inventory of the NFA so there would be reasons to import,” Roque said.

What’s the plan?

Vice President Leni Robredo urged the Duterte administration to tell the public how it plans to deal with the rice crisis.

“Last February, we were assured that this would be resolved soon, that the situation would improve when rice imports started to arrive. Importation arrived in June, but the situation worsened,” Robredo told reporters at the House of Representatives.

She cited the declaration of a state of calamity in Zamboanga City, rationing in Bacolod City and complaints on allocation in Davao and Cagayan de Oro cities.

 “The government must tell the people where are we headed. Up to when will this rice crisis prevail and what is the plan? As of now, we don’t know what the plan is,” Robredo asked.

Senate probe

 At the Senate, Francis Pangilinan and Paolo Benigno Aquino IV called for an inquiry into the rice crisis in Zamboanga City and the increase in rice prices.

The senators said the NFA should be held accountable and must see to it that cheap and quality rice is available in the market.

”The NFA must explain the said shortage, alleged hoarding and how the situation in Zamboanga City reached calamity level,” the senators said in Senate Resolution 868. – With Alexis Romero, Jess Diaz, Marvin Sy 

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