MANILA, Philippines — The National Food Authoriy council has agreed to allow rice imports but to leave this to the private sector, Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. said.
“NFA will no longer have the monopoly of importing rice,” Evasco said. “We should open importation to (the) private sector.”
“This G2G (government-to-government transactions) had been abused. This has been used for corrupt practices because there is no bidding involved here,” he explained.
Although the NFA sought approval to import rice through government-to-government deals but Evasco said private importation would be more transparent.
Besides, by letting the private sector handle the importation, “government will not spend money, second, government will earn money” from the tariffs importers will be paying, he said.
The rice imports will augment the country’s buffer stock and be covered by procurement laws.
Evasco explained that the NFA should maintain at least 15 days’ stocks at any given time and double that during the lean months of July to September.
But the current buffer of 250,000 metric tons is good for only eight days, he pointed out.
The actual volume to be imported is yet to be determined.
But to further ensure supply and stabilize prices, Evasco said the NFA Counci has allowed private traders to import 805,000 metric tons under the minimum access volume scheme.
In the meantime, the NFA will be working to beef up domestic purchases.
But reactions to the importation have been mixed with the peasant and rural women’s organization Amihan saying the government should be buying rice mainly from local farmers since in light of a 12 percent increase in output in the first quarter.
Zen Soriano, Amihan national chair, said private importation would only give traders more power to dictate prices.
“Ang dami-dami nilang bodega na puno ng bigas, tapos sila pa mag-i-import ngayon. Ang gubyerno hahayaan lang (They have so many warehouses full of rice and they will be importing too while the government allows it),” she said, voicing fears the traders might create an “artificial shortage.”
But the Federation of Central Luzon Farmers welcomed the NFA Council’s decision, with its president Simeon Sioson claiming the increased output was not enough to meet demand.
He called the decision “timely” because of the impending lean season.
“Sa ayaw at sa gusto ‘di namin kaya ibigay pangangailangan ng bayan. Masyado malaki ang demand (Whether we like it or not we cannot meet the needs of the people. Demand is too large),” he said.