Govt must ensure no food price spikes in PH as world rice prices rise — Pangilinan

AS WORLD rice prices increase, the government should try to anticipate its effect on the country’s food security and ensure that there would be no food price spikes especially for Filipinos already suffering from reduced income, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Friday.

“While the pandemic is primarily a health crisis, its impact on economic activities can cause it to balloon to a food crisis. With 5 million Filipinos projected to lose their jobs locally, di pa kasama ang OFWs, the joblessness and the resulting loss of incomes, sales, salaries, and revenues can lead to food hunger or food insecurity,” he said.

“Hindi lang pandemya ang kinakaharap natin, meron ding Taal eruption, African swine flu, at typhoon Ambo. Napaka-kritikal na tugunan natin ang issue ng food security,” Pangilinan said at the Usapang Liberal online forum on health and food security during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The senator, who is also president of the Liberal Party of the Philippines, shared with party officials and non-politician members information the Departments of Trade and Industry, Labor and Employment, Agriculture, and Finance gave at the Senate hearings on government efforts to address the various problems arising from the pandemic.

“Every day, the lockdown has cost us P3 billion a day,” said Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization from 2014 to 2015.

During this time, Pangilinan noted, food prices have been going up. “Tumaas ang presyo ng pagkain nang mga 3.4 percent. Kasama dyan ang isda, prutas, gulay,” he said.

But on rice, he said rice buffer stock is good for only 8 days, down from the legally required 15 or 30 days.

“Sa bigas, na hindi lang malapit sa bituka kundi nasa bituka mismo, global rice prices have jumped by 25% to 30% from January prices of 340 to 360 US dollars per metric ton to 440 to 460 US dollars now,” he said.

Pangilinan expressed these concerns to Agriculture Secretary William Dar Thursday evening at the Senate hearings.

“Ang concern natin tumataas ang presyo ng mga bilihin, tumaas ng 10% ang presyo ng pagkain, tumataas din ang presyo ng bigas sa world market. Kung 8 days na lang po ang buffer stock natin, Mr. Secretary, ano ba ang epekto nito?” Pangilinan asked Dar.

If commercial rice in the market and those in the households were included in the calculations, the country’s rice supply would be good for 60 days, the agriculture secretary said. This includes local rice production of the first and second quarters, the 850,000 MT the private sector imported, and the 300,000 MT that the government is procuring through the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC). 

While the National Food Authority (NFA) is no longer allowed to import for the government after the Rice Tariffication Law, the PITC, which the law allows to buy rice, is set to sign a memorandum of agreement with the NFA for warehousing of the government imported rice.

Pangilinan cautioned against possible abuses and manipulations on government rice importation costing around P8 billion. 

“Paano matitiyak? Dahil sa kasaysayan, maraming pagkakataon na-di-divert ang bigas. If you will remember, nauwi sa dalawang araw hanggang isa’t araw at kalahati ang buffer stock natin at may mga paratang na ito ay binenta sa mga trader, ni-rebag, at binenta nang doble ang presyo. We know that this has been happening before and therefore dapat mabantayan po yan,” Pangilinan pointed out.

In her response, NFA Administrator Judy Dansal said the still-to-be-signed NFA-PITC agreement only includes technical assistance in terms of the maintenance of the quality of stocks in the NFA warehouses and monitoring for a period of 6 months. She said earnings from the rice sale shall be liquidated by PITC and no longer by the NFA.

Pangilinan however insisted that the role of the DA and NFA is crucial in handling government imports. 

“PTIC is not in the business of selling rice. Dahil kulang ang expertise niyan, sa inyo mag-re-rely yan at syempre kay Secretary DAR. This is the first time we’re doing this as far as I can remember. Dapat liwanagin ang terms of engagement ng PITC, ng DA, ng NFA. Otherwise baka kung saan-saan mapunta itong malaking halaga,” he said.

“New normal na rin ito for NFA in terms of interventions. I hope we are several steps ahead, at hindi mauwi dun sa papalo sa singkwenta, sisenta piso ang presyo ng bigas dahil sa kakulangan,” he added.

With the curfews and other quarantine limitations, Pangilinan said production output is reduced with restricted milling operations that normally extend over the curfew hours now imposed.

Dar assured the senator that his department is putting up a monitoring system to ensure that this will not happen.