Statement of Sen. Kiko Pangilinan on abolition of NFA Council

Will the prices of rice go down with the abolition of the National Food Authority Council? For how long? Keeping a 15-day NFA buffer stock is to have affordable rice constantly available to Filipinos who are poor and can barely survive on intermittent jobs and minimum wage.

Why is the price of rice a political issue in the Philippines? Because for many of our countrymen, the 1 in 4 who are poor, rice is the only food they eat. “Magdildil sa asin” is a catchphrase because it reflects a sad reality that government is duty-bound to erase. Gutom ang dapat i-abolish, hindi ang NFA Council. Many of our poor are women and children, farmers and fishers. Sila ang nagdidildil ng asin. Maling-mali ito.

The balancing act of government is between keeping rice prices down for consumers and making rice farming viable for our farmers with fair buying price, among other things, like better farming technology and marketing support.

The NFA Council, which was created under Presidential Decree 4, as amended by PD 1770, serves as a watchdog against corruption in rice, including rice smuggling. It was created precisely to guard against arbitrary or self-serving acts of the executive branch. As we see it, the NFA Council, with representatives from the NEDA, BSP, DoF, DTI, among others, acts as a check on the NFA administrator, who is currently embroiled in corruption and incompetence issues.

Moreover, abolishing the NFA Council cannot be done by any executive decree, it can only be done by law. Worse, abolishing the NFA Council turns a blind eye to allegations of corruption and condones incompetence and mismanagement by the administrator.

With NFA Administrator Jason Aquino at the helm, NFA port officers tasked to guard against rice smuggling were removed. Despite recorded releases and testimonies of NFA-accredited retailers, rice stocks disappeared in the market. This is unprecedented in the 45-year history of the NFA. At a Senate hearing, farmers and retailers also testified under oath that NFA rice was being diverted to and re-bagged and sold as commercial rice at double the price by select traders. All these are prima facie evidence of corruption.

If the government is serious in addressing incompetence and smuggling, it is the NFA administrator who should be replaced and removed from the equation, not the NFA Council. He and not the NFA Council should be removed from the public management of the country’s rice supply.

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Bababa ba ang presyo ng bigas dahil sa pagbuwag sa National Food Authority Council? Gaano katagal? Ang pagkakaroon ng 15-araw na NFA buffer stock ay para magkaroon ng abot-kayang bigas na laging nariyan para sa mga Pilipinong nakakaraos lang dahil sa mga trabahong endo o di permanente at minimum wage.

Bakit isyung pulitikal ang presyo ng bigas sa Pilipinas? Dahil para sa karamihan ng ating mga kababayan, o isa sa apat na mahihirap na Pilipino, kanin lang ang pamatid-gutom. Sinasalamin ng kasabihang “magdildil ng asin” ang malungkot na katotohanang ito, na tungkulin ng gobyernong burahin. Gutom ang dapat i-abolish, hindi ang NFA Council. Marami sa mahihirap ay babae at bata, magsasaka at mangingisda. Sila ang nagdidildil ng asin. Maling-mali ito.

Dapat tinitimbang ng pamahalaan ang pagpapanatiling mababa ang presyo ng bigas para sa mga mamimili at gawing viable ang pagsasaka nito para sa ating magsasaka sa pamamagitan ng patas na buying price, mas maayos na teknolohiya sa pagsasaka, marketing support, at iba pa.

Ang NFA Council, na binuo sa ilalim ng Presidential Decree 4, as amended by 1770, ang nagsisilbing bantay laban sa korapsyon sa bigas, kabilang na ang smuggling sa bigas. Binuo ito bilang bantay laban sa mga arbitrary at makasariling aksyon ng executive branch. Sa tingin natin, ang NFA Council, na may kinatawan ng NEDA, BSP, DoF, DTI, at iba pa, ay bantay sa NFA administrator, na ngayon ay nasasangkot sa mga isyung korapsyon at incompetence.

Bukod dito, ang pag-abolish sa NFA Council ay hindi pwedeng gawin ng anumang executive decree, pwede lang itong gawin ng batas. Ang malala pa, ang pag-aabolish ng NFA Council ay pagbubulag-bulagan sa mga alegasyon ng korapsyon at pagtanggap sa mismanagement ng NFA administrator.

Sa pagpapatakbo ng NFA ni Administrator Jason Aquino, pinaalis ang mga NFA port officers na nagbabantay kontra rice smuggling. Sa kabila ng naitala na mga release at testimonya ng mga NFA-accredited retailer, nawala ang bigas sa mga palengke. Di pa ito nangyayari sa 45 taon ng NFA. Sa isang Senate hearing, sumumpa ang mga magsasaka at retailer na ang NFA rice ay dina-divert, nire-repack, at binebenta bilang commercial rice sa dobleng presyo ng mga piling traders. Ang lahat ng ito ay prima facie evidence ng katiwalian.

Kung seryoso ang gobyerno sa pagtugon sa incompetence at smuggling, dapat ang NFA administrator ang pinapalitan at inaalis sa equation, hindi ang NFA Council. Siya at hindi ang NFA Council ang dapat na alisin sa pamamahala ng rice supply ng bansa.