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MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE - 6:36 p.m.) Even as many Filipinos still say they regularly go hungry, a nongovernmental organization said at least 11 million sacks, or 550,000 metric tons, of imported rice are rotting in government warehouses.
Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) convenor Jessica Cantos, at a news conference Friday, showed discolored rice samples in shades ranging from yellowish to gray.
The samples were obtained during a recent fact-finding conducted by R1 on warehouses in Bulacan and Antipolo City.
R1 said the NFA lost approximately P16.5 billion, the landed cost alone, “excluding the cost incurred by the government for transportation and warehousing" from the importation.
This does not include the cost of US rice imported at a much higher price than from other countries as well as “five percent broken rice variety bought in 2008 and 2009."
According to the group, the stocks they examined had been imported 16 months ago and had been sprayed with pesticides 16 times and fogged 31 times to preserve them.
R1 said storage time for milled rice or white rice without the husk is a maximum of six months.
“This age-old rice has not been tested for its safe level of chemical residues or traces due to fumigation and fogging, yet these are already being subjected to public auction for distribution to consumers," Cantos said.
She stopped short of calling for the stocks to be distributed to the hungry despite the results of a recent Social Weather Stations that showed up to three milled of hungry Filipinos, saying the imported rice may no longer be safe for consumption and should be tested first by the Food and Drug Administration.
Cantos asked why the National Food Authority did not dispose of the rice sooner
But NFA head Angelito Banayo told InterAksyon that the so-called “rotting rice” had long been auctioned off.
Since 2000, the NFA regularly auctions off imported rice that has been stored in their warehouses for a long time.
In fact, Banayo said the groups had invited by the NFA to inspect the rice prior to the auction “for transparency.”
Banayo said the rice was imported only in March 2010 and thus, could not have been stored for 16 months as the group alleged.
“There’s a difference between rotting and ageing,” Banayo said.
According to him, rice can be stored for up to two years but will need to be re-milled.
“The problem with Filipinos is that they’re too picky with the rice quality,” Banayo said.
Jaime Tadeo of the National Rice Farmers Council feared that the stocks of rotting rice in the NFA warehouses will not give room for the new harvest of local farmers.
“Come September, some farms will be reaping their crops and the NFA warehouses should be available to accommodate the farmers’ produce,” Tadeo said.
But Banayo said there is enough rooms to store local rice harvests in all NFA warehouses.
Trinidad Domingo, chairperson of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, also lamented that farmers have been neglected through the years and have not received sufficient subsidies.
“We strongly condemn the previous leadership of the Agriculture Department, not only for gross negligence but for outrightly turning their backs on poor Filipino farmers who have been unfairly deprived of the needed government support," she said.
“We are even more disheartened to find out that the present administration has not done enough to correct the problem,” Domingo added.
In his first State of the Nation Address, President Benigno Aquino III revealed several fishy transactions entered by the NFA during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
According to Aquino, the government then overspent in procuring the grains and imported rice more than what was needed. The result is a P171.6-billion debt by the NFA in May 2010.
Last September, Banayo announced that the government needs to import 1.5 million metric tons of rice due to poor farm output.
He said the government needs to buy at least 1 million metric tons of rice due to a projected shortfall of 3.2 million metric tons this year.
Banayo said the government already procured 200,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam. “We already have 170,000 metric tons here while 30,000 more are in transit,” he added.
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