No more private sector rice imports, NFA head insists
The National Food Authority (NFA) is holding its ground on not allowing more private-sector imports to arrive, in defiance of its governing body’s decision, and instead wants clearance for the government importation of 250,000 tons.
The NFA insists that the deadline of Feb. 28 stands although the NFA Council, chaired by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr., maintains that this was extended to March 31.
NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino said Wednesday that no more shipments procured through the minimum access volume (MAV) mechanism of the World Trade Organization (WTO) should be accepted because local farmers had started harvesting this year’s first crop.
Data from the NFA showed that 211 farmer cooperatives and private businessmen applied for the importation of a total of 692,340 metric tons of rice through the MAV.
Aquino warned that additional inbound cargoes would push down prices to the detriment of farmers.
According to Raul Montemayor, business manager of the Federation of Free Farmers Cooperative, farmgate prices of palay in Nueva Ecija had gone down by as much as P2 a kilo on reports that more MAV shipments were being allowed.
Aquino said the NFA Council made the decision to extend the deadline for the arrival of shipments during a meeting when he was not present. He also said the resolution on the extension was disseminated “on a weekend.” Last Monday, Aquino said a majority of the council approved the extension “in a supposed meeting held on Feb. 27.”
The NFA administrator serves as vice chair of the council. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor is a member of the council, along with the secretaries of finance, trade and economic planning as well as the chair of the Development Bank of the Philippines, president of the Land Bank of the Philippines and a representative of farmers.
“Later this afternoon (Wednesday), the council will be convening and we will iron out everything (but) as far as the NFA is concerned, there is no extension,” Aquino said.
In a separate statement last Monday, Evasco said the NFA’s insistence on an earlier deadline for the arrival of MAV imports meant that the food agency wanted to do the importation itself.
“It creates serious doubt on the part of the NFA Council when some of the NFA’s executives have been insisting on G2G [government-to-government] procurement despite lack of recommendation to import from the National Food Security Committee,” Evasco said.
The Cabinet secretary vowed to hold NFA officials liable for “making a cash cow out of government-led importations.” The NFA itself imports milled rice through G2G contracts, but has the authority to issue permits for private importation.
“I will propose to the [NFA] Council the creation of a special committee to investigate the culprits of this flagrant corruption to the detriment of the country’s food security,” said Evasco, who is the council’s chair.
“It has come to the council’s attention that [NFA deputy administrator Ludovico] Jarina and Aquino have been holding closed-door meetings even prior to Aquino’s appointment as NFA administrator (last January),” Evasco said.
Evasco’s office also provided reporters a copy of Aquino’s letter to Vietnam’s ambassador to the Philippines dated March 3, informing the latter that the Philippine government would open a state-to-state importation this month to shore up its buffer stock. Evasco said this letter was sent to the Vietnamese embassy “behind the council’s back.”
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