Makabayan bloc wants rice crisis probed

MANILA — Lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives sought a congressional inquiry into the country’s rice crisis.

The seven-member bloc filed on Thursday House Resolution No. 2120, a copy of which was sent to the House media on Friday.

The Makabayan bloc consists of Gabriela Reps. Arlene Brosas and Emmi de Jesus, ACT Teachers Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao, and Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago.

The resolution directs the House Committee on Agriculture and Food to investigate the “unavailability or scarcity” of NFA rice in almost all markets nationwide, as well as the price hikes of commercial rice in places like Zamboanga City.

The lawmakers also urged the House panel to probe the NFA’s near-zero palay procurement in 2017.

They cited the Commission on Audit report flagging the NFA for its diversion of the PHP5.1-billion budget to pay its maturing loans instead of using it for its food security program.

“Various farmers’ and other agriculture-related organizations believe that food security must be based on self-sufficiency, and the government should secure the national stock of rice by procuring it at farmgate prices advantageous to poor farmers, and selling it at low retail prices to benefit poor consuming public,” the resolution read.

“Thus, the government must boost the capacity of NFA and order it to buy Filipino farmers’ palay at PHP20 per kilo on a massive scale and make rice affordable and available in all markets nationwide,” it added.

Meanwhile, finance managers of the NFA clarified on Thursday there was no diversion of the agency’s funds.

In a statement, the NFA said it operates under a One Fund Concept. All funds and revenues, including subsidy, accrue to one general fund, where all expenditures for operations, programs, and projects for food security, as well as for debt servicing, are sourced.

The agency said it received the PHP5.1-billion government subsidy from the Department of Budget and Management based on a Notice of Cash Allocation issued on Feb. 24, 2017.
Of the total amount, the Bureau of the Treasury automatically deducted 10 percent or PHP510 million as payment for previous years’ guarantee fee, while PHP2.5 billion represented payment of annual contribution for the PHP8 billion worth of 10-year Treasury Bonds issued to the NFA in February 2008.

The NFA received on March 1, 2017 net proceeds of only PHP2.09 billion out of the total subsidy, the agency’s statement said.

“The PHP2.09 billion net subsidy was used to pay for importation and palay procurement, which is in accordance with the General Appropriations Act. In fact, the subsidy fell short, as NFA’s total cost of importation in 2017 amounted to PHP5.2 billion,” the NFA said.

The NFA has also intensified its rice distribution to make its low-priced rice more accessible and available to more consumers.

To date, a total of 15,892 accredited rice retail outlets are selling NFA rice nationwide, including the 1,873 in the National Capital Region, located in public markets and barangays (villages).