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DA backs plan to re-allow NFA to buy, sell rice

The Department of Agriculture (DA) said Sunday it supports the proposal to restore the National Food Authority (NFA)’s authority to buy rice and sell it at a cheaper price.

DA Assistant Secretary Arnel de Mesa made the remark after Speaker Martin Romualdez on Tuesday said that the House of Representatives will pass a bill amending the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) that would allow NFA to buy and sell rice. 

“Kami sa DA, susuportahan namin 'yan dahil nakita namin ang kakulangan talaga na ang ating pamahalaan ay makaresponde sa mga pagkakataon na masyadong nagmamahal [ang presyo ng bigas],” de Mesa said in an interview on Super Radyo dzBB.

(The DA will support the proposal because we have seen the government's lack of response to situations when the price of rice gets really high.)

Based on DA’s latest data, the price of local regular milled rice was P50 per kilo, and P48 to P55 per kilo for local well-milled rice.

As for imported commercial rice, the regular milled rice was priced at P48 to P51 per kilo, while well-milled rice was at P51 to P54.

Should Romualdez’ plan push through, de Mesa, however, appealed for the NFA not to sell rice in low amounts. If the prevailing price is at P50 per kilo, the DA official suggested the NFA sell it around P40 per kilo.

“‘Wag masyadong mababa ang presyo ng ibebenta kagaya ng P25 [per kilo] kasi masyadong malulugi nang malaki ang NFA. ‘Yan din kasi ang isa sa reasons kung bakit naipasa ang RTL na ini-alis ang kapangyarihan, dahil ang laki ng lugi ng NFA,” he added. 

(The selling price should not be too low, like around P25 per kilo because the NFA will lose too much. That is also one of the reasons why the RTL was passed because the NFA incurred too much loss.) 

The RTL allows unlimited entry of imported rice in the country, a measure envisioned to bring down the prices of rice due to larger supply. Likewise, the same law bans the NFA from buying and selling rice and limits its mandate to managing buffer rice stocks.

These provisions were envisioned to bring down rice prices due to increased supply, but rice prices continue to increase in the six years since the law was enacted. Latest government data shows the rice inflation rate going up to 24.4% in March compared with 23.7% in February. 

When asked if it is possible for Filipinos to experience a P25 per kilo anytime soon, de Mesa said that it still depends if the cost to produce rice still decreases.

“'Yan lang naman talaga ang nagiging isyu kung bakit mahal ang bigas. Kumpara sa ibang bansa, mahal pa rin ang ating cost to produce ng palay at ang post-harvest losses natin ay mataas pa rin,” he explained.

(That's the only issue why rice is so expensive. Compared to other countries, the Philippines’ cost to produce rice is still expensive and our post-harvest losses are still high.)

In September last year, it could be recalled that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. approved the joint recommendation of the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry to set price ceilings on rice in the country amid the surge in retail prices of rice in local markets. 

This set the mandated price ceiling for regular milled rice at P41 per kilo, and P45 per kilo for well-milled rice, based on Executive Order No. 39, signed by Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.

Marcos lifted the rice price cap a month later.—RF, GMA Integrated news