Agriculture chief to NFA abolitionists: Can you face farmers, beneficiaries of rice?

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 29) — Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol has a word for detractors of the National Food Authority (NFA), which has come under fire amid a nationwide rice crisis.

"Anybody who is proposing the abolition of the NFA will have to answer these questions: Are you prepared to face the wrath of the people who will be looking for the ₱27, ₱32 per kilo rice of NFA?" Piñol said on CNN Philippines' The Source. "Are you prepared to answer the questions of the farmers who will be asking, why is there no support price for us?"

The NFA, previously under the Office of the President, was put under the supervision of the Agriculture Department in September. The agency was hounded by allegations of corruption as it failed to curb rising prices of rice.

President Rodrigo Duterte is also expected to relieve controversial NFA administrator Jason Aquino, whom former presidential spokesperson Harry Roque even said he would personally file graft and malversation charges against.

Some legislators, including Senate Economic Affairs Committee Chairman Win Gatchalian, have since called for its abolition.

Piñol maintains the exhorbitant cost of the country's staple food, was a result of manipulation, not shortage. He believes some parties took advantage of record-high inflation to jack up prices, and it could happen again in the absence of the NFA.

"It was because of NFA rice that we were able to stabilize the price [of rice in markets]," said Piñol.

"Kapag pinabayaan natin na sa private sector lahat iyan, imamanipulate ng traders iyan," he added. "How were we able to regulate the [suggested retail prices]? Because NFA is there."

(Translation: If we leave it all to the private sector, the traders will just manipulate prices.)

He added that the private sector would not make the effort to send subsidized rice to far flung areas.

The agriculture chief's remarks come after authorities implemented the suggested retail prices of rice and other new guidelines last October 27 in Metro Manila. He said implementation of the policy in provinces would follow after November 1.

"I hope our policymakers will not come up with knee jerk solutions to temporary problems like an increase in the price of rice," Piñol added.

Piñol called the NFA an agency "in limbo" last September, and maintained that it should expand its reach to cover the distribution and regulation of different kinds of food, not just rice.

In August, Gatchalian argued that NFA's revenue shrank from ₱29.3 billion in 2016 to ₱17.93 billion last year — while its losses rose to ₱150 billion. He said the agency had become "a liability to the government."

"Taxpayers continue to shoulder the losses [of] NFA despite its consistent failure to fulfill its mandate," said Gatchalian, who believes market forces could determine rice prices instead. "It's time to abolish this unproductive agency and put taxpayers' money to better use."