NFA officials, council blame each other on rice price spike

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The National Food Authority and its policy-making body blame each other during a congressional hearing.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — The National Food Authority (NFA) and its policy-making body pointed fingers at each other in a congressional hearing on rice prices.

NFA Deputy Administrator Tom Escares blamed the bureaucracy.

"When it comes to bureaucracy, pasikot sikot po ito. Naging dahilan kung bakit may delayed arrival. San ka naman nakakita na darating ang bigas ng June, eh kung yung klase nga minove ng September. 'Yung arrival pa ng bigas, eh talagang aabutan ng basa yan, talagang di maa-unload yan," he said.

Escares said, the NFA requested for the importation of one million tons of rice as early as the fourth quarter last year.

"As early as October last year, we're requesting to import rice, but it's so complicated I hope that congress may help in the situation we have. We have a council over and above us. It is the council which will say how much we procure at kelan ito darating. Before hindi ganun, it's the NFA, pag sinabi niya, the president says okay na importation, okay na rin to sa council but still subject to evaluation," Escares said.

"When you say you have to import, as early as last year, one million was requested by the administrator, but we were advised to import only 250,000 then later 250,000. Then we were told it has to arrived by June. Ang June kasi tag-ulan na kaya nale-late dating. It should've arrived by March," he added.

However, the NFA Council only approved the request in May this year. The Council is composed of 11 government agencies.

For its part, the Department of Trade and Industry, a Council member, said the NFA failed to submit its inventory of rice supply. This delayed the import request.

"Some time middle of last year, council is asking for inventory of rice supply by NFA. This was before the request for the permission to import for this year. NFA was not able to submit such inventor which caused the delay of the approval of the council for the new importation," Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said.

Castelo said the NFA's statement of a shortage of cheap rice triggered the price spike.

"The inflation, according to the NFA council, the inflation rise was triggered by the declaration by NFA that there was no more rice supply. Yes, it was out in the media, it was speculation. But coming officially from the NFA administrator was the main trigger for the inflation," she said.

She added some businessmen took advantage of the NFA statement and raised their prices.

Meanwhile, the Department of Finance assured lawmakers there is enough budget for safety nets to help the poor cope with the impact of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion law.

Finance Undersecretary Karl Chua said ₱69.1 billion has been set aside for the social mitigating fund this year and ₱83.8 billion pesos for 2019.

This includes the unconditional cash transfer program worth ₱24.5 billion this year and ₱37.6 billion next year.

The Department of Transportation is also implementing the Pantawid Pasada Program or fuel subsidy for public utility vehicle drivers and operators. The subsidy costs ₱977 million this year and ₱3.85 billion next year.

In addition, the government earmarked ₱28.5 billion for rice subsidy for 2018 and 2019.