By Juan Escandor Jr.
NAGA CITY---Camarines Sur Second District Rep. LRay Villafuerte has formally called for a congressional inquiry into the “true state” of the national rice inventory amid government plans to soon import a still undetermined volume of the staple in a bid to beef up the country’s stocks ahead of the
traditional July-September lean season.
In House Resolution No. 993, Villafuerte wants the appropriate committee of the House of Representatives to “conduct an inquiry in aid of legislation on the true state of rice inventory in the Philippines to ensure adequate and affordable rice supply during the traditional lean months.”
Through such an inquiry, Villafuerte said in HR 993 that the Congress could immediately determine “the true state of the country’s rice inventory that is crucial to the timely drawing of proposals for the government to ensure ample and affordable rice supply” for the remainder of the year and onwards.
Villafuerte filed this resolution a day before Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. announced last May 16 the recommendation by the National Food Authority Council (NFAC), which Evasco chairs, for the NFA to import rice—but through the government-to-private (G2P) arrangement in lieu of the government-to-government (G2G) scheme—to augment the food agency’s buffer stocks.
Last Wednesday, Evasco said the NFAC ordered the NFA to allow the entry of the remaining volume of 54,000 metric tons (MT) under the country’s 2016 Minimum Access Volume (MAV) commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that are already in domestic ports. MAV imports by private traders have a lower tariff.
In its latest Rice and Corn Situation and Outlook report, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) bared that palay stocks will rise some 11 percent to 4.13 million MT in the year’s second quarter, resulting in an 11.78 percent increase in the first-semester output to 8.55 million MT from 7.65 million MT in the same January-June period in 2016.
However, Villafuerte stressed in HR 993 that a House probe is in order as he cited a report to him by NFA CamSur provincial manager Dr. Yolanda Navarro that the province’s buffer stock only totaled 42,293 cavans (or 50-kilo bags) as of April 30, or equivalent to only three days’ consumption at CamSur’s daily rice requirement of 13,840 cavans.
Navarro informed Villafuerte in her letter that the Legislative-Executive Department Advisory Council (LEDAC) had prescribed for the NFA a buffer stock level equivalent to 30 days’ consumption at the onset of the July-September lean months
“The drawing up of proactive measures is important to avert the possibility of a supply shortfall including the possible importation of rice,” said Villafuerte, who had steered the rise of CamSur as one of the country’s largest palay (unmilled rice) growers on his watch as provincial governor from 2004 to 2013.
“An adequate rice supply is necessary for our food security, especially during times of calamities and emergencies,” added Villafuerte, who is vice chairman of the House committees on appropriations and on local government.
Through a public inquiry, Villafuerte said the House could “come up with policy proposals for Government to ensure ample and affordable supply of this staple, in light of fears that the country’s current buffer stock might not be enough to last us through the traditional lean months after this summer harvest season.”
“A congressional inquiry is in order to help Malacañang (1) determine the real supply situation, and (2) then draw up proactive measures, including possible imports, to avert a possible supply shortfall later this year,” he said.
But Villafuerte stressed that the Congress could back immediate imports—only if determined necessary in the course of the would-be public hearings—“to enable the government to proactively maintain the ideal buffer stock level—equivalent to a 30-day supply of the national daily rice requirement—by the time domestic stocks dwindle during the traditional July-September lean months.”
In HR 993, Villafuerte noted that NFA CamSur’s rice supply for three days’ consumption is but a tenth of the 30-day buffer stock level set by the LEDAC before the July-September lean months.
Other than the three-month lean season, the LEDAC has required the NFA to maintain in the country a 15-day buffer stock level at any given time, said Villafuerte in his resolution, citing Navarro’s letter to him.
Villafuerte pointed out in HR 993 that exacerbating the supply problem for CamSur’s NFA is Navarro’s admission that this state-run food agency has struggled to compete with private grains traders in beefing up its inventory this summer harvest season as the latter are now buying palay from farmers as high as P20 a kilo, or a fifth higher than the government support price of P17 (plus an incentive of 70 centavos to P1 per kilo).
In her letter, Navarro sought Villafuerte’s support behind the NFA-proposed importation of 250,000 MT of rice to augment the NFA’s buffer stock in preparation for the July-September lean months.
Navarro told Villafuerte that, “We are appealing for your support for additional buffer stock in preparation for the onset of the lean months. And, this could only be realized through importation of 250,000 MT of rice. The right time to purchase the same should be now considering the process in the conduct of procurement activity.”
“Please be informed that the said additional rice supply is necessary for our food security during times of calamities and emergencies,” she said. “It shall also provide a ready inventory for the government’s priority programs such as the 4Ps of the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), the Food for Work/Feeding Supplement Programs of the LGUs (local government units), and the regular requirements of other government agencies like the BJMP (Bureau of Jail Management and Penology).”
Said Navarro: “May we inform you of the present predicament NFA Camarines Sur is facing. As of April 30, 2017, our rice stock inventory is only 42,293 bags, which is only good for three (3) days based on the province’s daily consumption requirement of 13,840 bags.”
“For supply and price stabilization at the consumer level, we are distributing rice through NFA accredited outlets strategically located in all public markets, remote and depressed barangays of the province. Currently, our average daily sale is 994 bags. We have calibrated our daily sales to stretch our limited stock inventory until May 31, 2017,” she said.
“Our rice farmers are currently harvesting their summer crop. However, NFA cannot absorb its targeted volume of palay procurement due to the prevailing high ex-farm price of palay, which ranges from P15 to P 16 per kilogram. Further, private grains traders are buying palay at P18 to P20 per kilogram while NFA’s support price is only P17 per kilogram, with additional incentives amounting to P0.70 to P1 per kilogram,” Navarro said.
She added that, “Although NFA’s procurement logistics are in place for this harvest season, it would be favorable for farmers to sell their produce to grains traders at higher prices. Thus, we cannot build up our mandated 30-day food security stock through local procurement before the start of the lean months.”