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June 2024

House approves bill reinstating NFA functions to drive rice prices down

Grainy at the moment. While the National Food Authority officials work on sacking the rice sale scam, probe details of which remain undisclosed, workers keep the flow going, carrying sacks of rice for stacking at an NFA warehouse in Manila.TED ALJIBE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Edjen Oliquino

The House of Representatives has approved a bill that would reinstate some primary functions of the National Food Authority (NFA), widely perceived as a solution to driving down the price of rice.

With 231-3-1 votes, House Bill (HB) 10381 breezed through the plenary on Tuesday, a day before Congress adjourns sine die.

The House-approved measure seeks to modify Republic Act 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act, previously amended by the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).

If enacted into law, the bill will revive several NFA’s functions, including its price stabilization and supply regulation authority, which was removed under the RTL enacted in 2019.

It would also allow the NFA to use its buffer stocks to supply areas facing a rice shortage, a sustained increase in price, or an extraordinary increase in the cost of rice.

This condition falls under a food security emergency, which the Department of Agriculture secretary may declare upon the recommendation of the National Price Coordinating Council and Local Price Coordinating Council.

In times of food security emergency, the country could resort to importation only if no local stocks from the NFA are available.

The proposal also seeks to restore the NFA’s warehouse registration and monitoring powers “to ensure compliance with all pertinent standards and regulations, leveraging its established expertise and nationwide network to uphold the national interest in rice buffer stocking and food security.”

House leaders are keen that amending the RTL, which would permit NFA anew to enter the domestic rice market, will shrink the cost of the staple grain by at least P10 or P15 per kilo, nearing the P30 per kilogram mark.

Currently, prices of rice are pegged at P60.81 and P51.63 for local special and well-milled, respectively.

While the bill successfully mustered support from the House, its prospects remain unclear in the Senate.

Earlier, Senator Cynthia Villar, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, said the “majority” of senators are against reinstating NFA’s regulatory and import licensing functions, citing previous instances in which the agency was embroiled in various corruption scandals.

She contended that Congress should instead pass the proposed Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Law, which would impose severe sanctions on smugglers, hoarders, and cartels believed to be the culprits behind the soaring prices of staple grain.

In March, the Ombudsman suspended 141 NFA officials, including Administrator Roderico Bioco, for allegedly selling 75,000 bags of “aging” and “deteriorating” rice buffer stock to private traders. The supplies, reportedly re-bagged and sold at a higher price, were later deemed fit for consumption.

Members of the House are adamant that their proposal has enough safety nets to ensure that the NFA has fewer chances of corruption. QR Code

Published Date: May 21, 2024

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