Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Sunday asked the National Food Authority (NFA) about the availability of affordable government-subsidized rice, especially for low-income Filipinos.
“Hindi nasagot ng NFA sa nagdaang pandinig sa Senado ang mga tanong natin. Nasaan ang NFA rice? (NFA was not able to answer our questions in the last Senate hearing. Where is NFA rice?) What happened to the 245% increase in the distribution of NFA rice in January? Saan napunta ang bigas? Bakit ang taas pa rin ng presyo ng bigas sa palengke? At bakit dalawang araw lang ang buffer stock gayong 15 days ang mandato ng NFA sa karaniwang panahon? (Where did the rice go? Why are rice prices in the market still high? Why is the buffer stock only for two days when NFA is mandated to have 15 days’ worth of stock during regular days?)” he asked.
The NFA is required to have rice stock equivalent to 30 days during lean months.
During the February 27 hearing at the Senate, it was bared that NFA rice is illegally being sold to traders who re-bag and resell it as commercial rice at P42 to P45, or between 55% to 66% higher than the required NFA selling price of P27 to P32.
“Ang ibig sabihin niyan para sa karaniwang pamilyang Pilipino, imbes na makabili ng isa’t kalahating kilo, isang kilo lang ang mabibili. So kung ang isang pamilyang may limang katao ay nakakaubos ng isa’t kalahating kilo isang araw, kung hindi man tipid-tipid muna sa kanin o magpaparaya na naman si nanay (For the ordinary Filipino family, instead of buying one-and-a-half kilo, it will only buy one kilo. So if a family of five consumes one-and-a-half kilo a day, it’s either everyone eats less or the mother would, which is usually the case),” Pangilinan said.
At the same Senate hearing, Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla of the National Economic Development Authority revealed the 245% increase in distribution or market penetration in January.
Pangilinan, who headed the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization from May 2014 to October 2015, said food is a basic human right. This means that the government as duty-bearer is obliged to make food affordable, accessible, and available to its people.
“Hindi nawawala ang kanin sa hapag-kainan ng mga Pilipino. Kaya kahit asin lang, talo-talo na. At nandyan ang pamahalaan, sa pamamagitan ng NFA, para siguruhing merong abot-kayang pagkain, o kahit na bigas na lang, para sa lahat, lalong-lalo na sa mga kapos nating kababayan (Rice is a regular staple at the Filipino dining table, even if partnered only with salt. The government, through the NFA, is there to ensure food security, or at least rice security, for all Filipinos), he added.
Government data show that 1 in 3 farmers (34.3% in 2015) and fisher folk (34%), or the food producers, is poor. This rural poverty incidence is twice the average of Indonesia and Thailand.