No such thing as 'unimpeded' rice importation, Piñol says

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 15) — Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Monday countered previous claims that the country will undertake "unimpeded" rice importation, saying that doing so would be an injustice to local farmers.

He made the pronouncement in a media briefing, where he also announced that the National Food Council approved on Monday the importation of an additional 750,000 metric tons of rice. It was not immediately clear if that is on top of an earlier announced importation of 750,000 metric tons of the staple.

Piñol said that while President Rodrigo Duterte's directive was to flood the market with rice, the country's chief executive never uttered the term "unimpeded" importation during last week's cabinet meeting.

"He directed us to make sure there will be enough rice supply," Piñol told reporters in Malacañang.  "Walang words na (ganun na) ginamit ang President, kasi kinakabahan ang farmers natin eh."

[Translation: The President did not use those words, because our farmers were getting nervous.]

The Agriculture Department views rice importation as a means to curb the country's inflation, which continued to soar in September.

"Today, the NFA has approved 750,000 metric tons additional importation of rice. And by the end of this year, we will have a buffer stock good for 134 days, coming into 2019," Piñol added. "There is a danger actually that we may have an oversupply of rice."

Harry Roque, who has stepped down as Presidential Spokesperson, last week said Duterte has approved "unimpeded" importation, which would remove all restrictions in the rice importation process. 

The Agriculture Secretary noted it was Roque who coined the "unimpeded" term.

"I do not mean to discredit Secretary Roque, masyado siyang excited, emotional na 'yung mama siguro (he may have been just excited and emotional)," said Piñol, who also shrugged off rumors of a reported argument in the cabinet meeting.

"But let's put things in their proper perspectives. The President never used the word unimpeded imporation, because that would be a disservice and an injustice to our Filipino farmers," he added.

READ: Harry Roque resigns as Duterte spokesman to run for party list

In September, Duterte approved Administrative Order No. 13, which aims to remove several administrative barriers in the importation process of agricultural products. The order streamlines the application process for food imports through minimizing processing time, liberalizing issuance of trader permits and accreditation, and reducing importation fees.


Rice prices to stabilize by October

The Agriculture chief also expects rice prices to stabilize by the end of October.

He shared that with the rice harvest season fast approaching, consumers can expect prices of the staple to stabilize within the month.

Piñol said his agency will meet with rice stakeholders on October 18 to finalize the suggested retail prices for the staple.

"It's the harvest season. In fact, nasabi ko kanina, nagsabay sabay ang pagpasok ng imports at ng harvest season," he said. [Translation: In fact, as I've said earlier, the entry of imports came just in time for harvest season.]

"That's the problem with agriculture actually: it's like a seesaw. It's difficult to keep it balanced."

READ: Piñol: Rice prices to stabilize soon, won't go below P40/kilo