TO THE POINT: Señor Presidente, bilang Dictador, Tabang!

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 24 February) — We are unsure if “Señor Presidente, bilang Dictador, Tabang!” is Bisaya-Cebuano. We are only sure, it is Bisaya. In English, “Mr. President, as dictator, help!”

We presume this is the collective voice (GMA News, February 8, 2018) of “[m]ore than 10 million consumers [who] have been forced to shift to the more expensive commercial rice in the face of low supply of NFA (National Food Authority) rice”

Señor Presidente, “dictador” from your critics, activists, leftists and political opposition, et cetera, et cetera, is a hate-call; that from the distressed “10 million”, a plea for release from time immemorial suffering. They love dictator as hero banishing corrupt oppressors.

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Last February 11, Philippine Daily Inquirer  reported: “Rice prices nationwide had increased by as much as P5 per kilogram after the National Food Authority (NFA), whose principal role was to keep prices stable by selling or buying rice, admitted its rice stock was dwindling and good for only two days.” (February 11, 2018: Gov’t says rice enough but prices say otherwise)

Nationwide, NFA rice costs P27 to P32 per kilo while commercial rice sells from P40 to P54. According to retailers they had little choice but to hike prices because the cost of commercial rice went up just as NFA rice disappeared in the market. A Cebu City rice vendor complained of being unable to buy NFA rice since last December.

From the PDI report, it can be gleaned that there is enough supply of commercial rice. But as NFA has been holding back or limiting the release of its stocks, the rice cartels have raised their prices citing rice shortage. Vendors are expecting the prices to go higher by the end of February.

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Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol belied reports of rice shortage (GMA News, February 7, 2018). On the contrary, there is a big surplus comparing the palay production of 2017 plus that until March compared to the national consumption for the next three months.

  • Rice available: For the next 96 days (from February 7) or three months until the middle of May, 5.8 million metric tons of rice will be available in the market – 2.7 million from the 2017 palay production (19.4 million metric tons) and 3.1 million from the farmers’ harvest until March .
  • Consumption: The estimated daily national consumption is 31,450 metric tons or 2.8 million tons in the next three months.
  • Surplus: From the 5.8 million tons available, there will be a surplus of three million metric tons.

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At the House committee hearing last Tuesday, NFA Administrator Jason L.Y.  Aquino gave the assurance that there is no rice shortage in the country. The total national rice-stock inventory of around 2.242 million MT would last for 71 days. (Business Mirror, February 20, 2018: NFA warns government rice stock gone by April)

Without his clarification, it is presumed that the 2.242 MT includes the NFA stock of 56,100 MT, good only for 1.7 days. This is actual stock inventory, not counting what Piñol reported as the on-going harvest until March.

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NFA stock is a mere 2.5 percent of the national rice-stock inventory. Without the NFA rice, the commercial rice can last for 69 days. Aquino’s admission at the House hearing means the lack of NFA rice in the market cannot create shortage. It is not the real cause of the sudden rice price increase nationwide of up to P5 per kilo.

The actual demand for NFA rice is insignificant.

The assistant regional manager for NFA Eastern Visayas Raymundo Tafalla revealed that “only about 2 percent of households consume NFA rice” and confirmed “the more than enough commercial rice available in market”. (PDI, February 11, 2018: Gov’t says rice enough but …)

The shortage is artificial, the sudden price increase manipulated.

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The problem has haunted NFA and its predecessors and the government for the last 45 years. They have been proven impotent in regulating prices against rice cartels.

Republic Act No. 3452 created the RCA (Rice and Corn Administration) in June 1962 primarily mandated “to stabilize the price of palay, rice and corn” for the benefit of the farmers and consumers. It abolished the National Rice and Corn Corporation. In the 1960s, rice sold at P0.40 per ganta – a ganta equated to two kilos.

By 1971, RCA rice sold at P1.40 per ganta; commercial rice, P2.35 to P2.70.

In September 1972, President Marcos, by Presidential Decree No. 4, changed RCA to NGA (National Grains Authority) — retaining and expanding the RCA mandate. To address the rising rice prices, NGA shifted to kilo from ganta as the measure in the sale of rice – pegging the price at P1.40 per kilo virtually retaining the prevailing commercial price with half a ganta equated to a kilo.

In January 1981, NGA became NFA. Under six presidents after Marcos, NFA has been doing the same functions as mandated among which is importing rice purportedly to stabilize the supply and price of rice in the market.

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The NFA is now experiencing a crisis. As Aquino revealed at the House hearing, by the end of March, NFA stocks will have been completely disposed. To remedy this, with the approval of President Duterte, it will import 250,000 metric tons scheduled to arrive in June. For the months of April and May, it will have no supply for the two percent of the consumers who prefer NFA rice and no reserve for emergencies.

Why import? Why not buy from the farmers? According to Piñol there is ongoing harvest until March?

The importation will not benefit the 10 million or more commercial rice consumers crying for help. Their problem is the increasing prices, not the supply which, as confirmed, is sufficient.

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Señor Presidente, the response to the plea of the 10 million or more is not NFA rice importation but the roll back of the prices of commercial rice in the market. As seen in its history, NFA is incapable of doing this within its mandate and resources.

Señor Presidente, this problem had recurred time and again under your predecessors. The recurrence had never stopped. Will you allow the same to happen under your watch?

Señor Presidente, if you use your emergency powers under the Constitution you will be criticized as dictador. But the 10 million or more will hail you as their hero. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Patriicio P. Diaz was editor in chief of the Mindanao Cross in Cotabato City and later the Mindanao Kris. He is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his ‘commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator, and Peace Advocate.’ You may e-mail your comments to