QUEZON CITY, June 13 --The National Food Authority (NFA) assures the public it has been doing its best to make rice available, accessible, and affordable to the country's poor and low-income consumers but there are policy and operational decisions it cannot make alone, aside from the fact that natural events can also limit its efficiency and effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate of food security and stabilization of supply and price of the country's basic staple.
Imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand started arriving last week, but some cannot be unloaded due to heavy rains at the ports. "As soon as the weather becomes a little better, the stocks will be immediately brought to NFA warehouses and immediate dispersal will follow. I have instructed all NFA field directors and managers to immediately distribute the stocks as soon as possible to give immediate relief to our poor countrymen, particularly those belonging to the marginalized sector, and help bring down rice prices," NFA administrator Jason Aquino said.
"Over the past 45 years, the presence of NFA rice in the market had always been hailed as a fulcrum against inflation. There had been great spikes in the prices of fuel and other basic goods before, but having enough supply of affordable NFA rice has always cushioned our poor kababayan from hunger and economic difficulty," Aquino said.
He said NFA had been effective in its mandate in the past because it always had enough buffer stock to stabilize the market when commercial rice prices rise. On the part of the farmers, on the other hand, the NFA had already succeeded in influencing palay prices to be more profitable for them as its support price serves as the benchmark for ex-farm prices.
"Our farmers now are happy with the very high palay buying prices reaching as much as P25/kilogram, making NFA unable to procure its buffer stocks locally at the support price of P17/kg clean and dry. But our low-income consumers are complaining because the temporary absence of NFA rice in the market has made life more difficult for them as prices of other commodities continue to rise," Aquino said.
Aquino explained that the depletion of NFA rice was not a result of NFA's inefficiency or the incompetence of its officials. Records show that the increase in rice prices started way before NFA's announcement that its stocks are being depleted and that there was a need for immediate importation to replenish the government buffer stocks, he said.
Rather, it was the consequence of differing views and appreciation of how the NFA mandate is supposed to be done. While some quarters wanted NFA rice to be taken away from the market and let private traders dictate the supply and price of rice (thus against government importation policy), NFA would not relent in its mandate of making rice available, accessible, affordable and safe at all times.
"Except for myself, the current NFA officials, directors and managers have been in the agency for an average of 30 years. They had hurdled and triumphed over more adverse situations in the past simply because their recommendations, based on actual experience, were heard and appreciated by the government policy makers" Aquino said.
"We'd like to emphasize once again that the NFA never said there was rice shortage in the country. NFA was consistent in saying that there was more than enough of commercial rice. What was being depleted was NFA rice, which was the only option for our poor kababayan. However, some members of the media deliberately misled the public which actually caused panic by reporting otherwise. Unhappily, some officials in the government believed this." Aquino explained.
"I am calling on all our colleagues and leaders in government: Rather than pointing fingers and blaming each other for certain problems we encounter along the way, let us help each other find the right and long-term solutions to these problems. It's the least we could do to help ease the burden of our President who is pouring all his time and energy on finding ways to make life better and more comfortable for our countrymen," Aquino said.(NFA)