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This time, addicts blamed for rice crisis

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday said the growing population of drug addicts confined in rehabilitation centers were to blame for the country’s rice crisis.

“Now, many are in the rehabilitation [centers] that’s why we have rice crisis. These deranged people started eating [rice],” Duterte said in a jest in a speech in Malacañang.

The presidential quip came a day after his spokesman, Harry Roque, blamed outgoing National Food Authority chief Jason Aquino for “singlehandedly” aggravating inflation with the rice crisis during his stewardship of the agency.

“Maybe next time, when there’s another crisis, you distribute shabu [to them] for the others to eat, so we can save rice for the others, especially the innocent and the good ones,” said Duterte, receiving laughs from government workers and officials.

He then said the drug addicts, caught under the administration’s crackdown on drugs, were thin as most of them did not eat.

“They’re thin, most of them are thin. You can see them on TV. Shabu is the only thing they eat, nothing else,” said Duterte.

“You know why they’re thin? Because they do not eat. And they keep on grinding their teeth just like when someone’s in a dream. So, when your son does that, it’s a red flag,” Duterte said, mimicking the mannerism of drug users. 

The President made the remarks as he administered the oath-taking of the new Career Executive Service Officers, the conferment ceremony of the 2017 Gawad Career Executive Services, and the 2018 Outstanding Government Workers Awards rites.

In related developments:

• The Trade Department Consumer Protection Group is putting pressure on the NFA for its lack of urgency to put out more government rice stocks in supermarkets and groceries as decided in a tripartite agreement signed between the Trade Department, NFA and the supermarket association.

Trade undersecretary for consumer protection Ruth Castelo, in a briefing Thursday, said the NFA should cooperate to relax some of the requirements needed to retail government rice in mainstream formal distribution outlets.

“We just wish that NFA will move faster. If they can move in tune with the pace of consumer needs, then it will be best. They would probably have to relax some measures or streamline some of what were traditionally required of retailers to speed up processing. As much as possible, we want the procedure to be done in a day’s time,” she said.

• NFA officials implicated by Senator Risa Hontiveros in an alleged “P2-billion enterprise” expressed disgust they were collectively accused of wrongdoing for simply performing their job as part of standard operating procedures in the agency.

In a privilege speech delivered on Sept. 24, Hontiveros named NFA administrator Aquino; Judy Carol Dansal, deputy administrator for operations; Mercedes Yacapin, assistant administrator for

operations; Rocky Valdez, former director of NFA’s marketing operations department; executive assistant Richie Carpio; and two other individuals as part of an alleged “tara” system in imported rice

that gave them a “windfall of P2 billion.”

• The highly in demand low-priced good quality rice from NFA is now available in at least two supermarkets in Metro Manila.

Rice consumers can now buy NFA rice at P27 and P32 per kilogram from Daily Supermarket along P. Tuazon corner 20th Avenue in Quezon City and from San Roque Supermarket on Quirino Highway corner Dumalay St. in Novaliches, Quezon City.

Since the signing of the memorandum of agreement on Sept. 19, only one supermarket in Cubao started retailing NFA rice on Monday.

 The CPG noted that with 200 members of the Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association Inc., it will take time for the NFA to assess the documentation requirement of each member.

“They [NFA] were told to put out all the remaining government rice inventory into the market to provide relief to families barely augmenting their resources for food. And they have committed to adhere to the agreement by virtue of the memo,” Castelo said.

There are about 2.3 million metric tons of rice in the government warehouses. 

The NFA has increased its market participation to 20 percent two weeks ago from 13 percent or about 128,000 bags of 50 kilogram each from 76,000 bags per day.

NFA spokesperson Rex Estoperez said consumer could expect a gradual decrease in commercial rice prices to about P37 to P39/kilo from P40 to P42/kilo within the next two weeks.

The first tranche of 250,000 MT imported rice to arrive October will help lower down the price of commercial rice.

Another tranche of 250,000 MT will arrive November and the final tranche of another 250,000 MT on December shall comprise the total allowed importation of 750,000 MT.

Adding up to imports are NFA inventory and the expected palay output that was delayed due to the recent typhoon.

“We will maintain the 20 percent participation of NFA until prices and volume stabilize. We only intervene if there is a problem on price and inventory. It is our mandate to see to it that the country has a stable supply of rice nicely-priced and affordable to all income brackets,” Estoperez said.

Last Sept. 19, the NFA signed a tripartite MOA with the Department of Trade and Industry and the Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association Inc. for members of PAGASA to sell

NFA rice in addition to the existing accredited outlets in public markets. 

San Roque Supermarket has been an accredited retailer of the NFA and has been selling NFA rice even before the Memorandum of Agreement was signed.

NFA district offices in Metro Manila have started accepting applications for the license to sell NFA rice from member-supermarkets of PAGASA.

Each supermarket is allotted 50 bags of NFA rice sold at either P27 or P32 per kilogram. 

The supermarket owners go to the nearest NFA branch to pay their purchase. 

They will then proceed to the designated NFA warehouse to withdraw their allocation similar to what regular NFA accredited retailers are currently doing.

Consumers can buy affordable NFA rice at supermarkets in two-kilogram packs. 

Except for Aquino and Carpio, those named are long-time NFA employees who rose from the ranks and are now occupying high positions in the operations group of the agency. 

“We have faithfully served the agency and the public for more than 40 years. It is lamentable that somebody, speaking under the cloak of immunity of the Senate, would destroy our names and reputation in a few minutes of privileged speech,” the old-time NFA officials said.

“We are appalled at how some politicians have made malicious imputations on activities that are being done in the course of business of the agency,” they added.

The distribution of NFA rice goes through several channels: accredited retailers, government agencies, relief agencies, local government units and other outlets. 

“It is not sold to one person or entity,” they explained.

At present, the NFA sells rice through 15,892 accredited rice retailers nationwide and many other outlets like Institutionalized Bigasan sa Palengke, Bigasang Bayan, Barangay Bagsakan, Bigasan sa Parokya, and Tagpuan Rice Response Delivery outlets.

During the Senate agriculture committee hearing held on Feb. 27, when Senator Grace Poe first mentioned the above-named NFA officials, the NFA came prepared, with a boxful of documents containing the list of retailers and receipts of rice issuances to its various distribution outlets. 

But these documents were ignored and the senators instead went on to pillory the NFA officials on alleged irregularities.

On the extension of import permits for the 2016 minimum access volume imports, they said importer Villa Shipping Line, Inc., JVV EX/Import and Kakampi MPC were issued the corresponding Import Permits after they submitted their explanations corresponding to their shipments which were the basis for the approval of their import permits.

In the case of SRT Alcala MPC, the coop was initially issued an import allocation of 1, 020 MT with Vietnam as a country of origin. 

This was covered by MAV-2017-COE-229 dated Nov. 20, 2017. 

On Jan. 25, 2018, said cooperative requested 10, 000 MT import allocation with India as an origin. However, the financial capacity of SRT Alcala MPC can only accommodate 3, 980 MT, thus an import volume of 3, 980 MT was allocated per MAV-2017-Certificate of Eligibility-0313 dated Jan. 31, 2018.

On the 2017-2018 MAV auction via Service Fee, this was approved by the NFA Council. 

Based on the Terms of Reference, in order to acquire an import allocation, interested importers shall bid for the required Service Fee. 

This means that the applicant for the highest Service Fee shall have the priority of acquiring an import allocation until the quota for a certain source country, area and classification will be exhausted.

This process was preferred because the Council members believe that it is a very transparent system since the bidders shall right-away see the result of the process, in real time. 

The auction of Service Fee generated around P1.4 billion and this amount is being held by the Land Bank of the Philippines.

On the alleged prevention of NFA personnel from inspection and supervision over rice imports at the ports, NFA operations managers explained that the Terms of Contract for the 2017 NFA rice importation was Cost, Insurance, Freight, Delivered At Place (CIF, DAP), which means that  rice imports are delivered by the supplier up to the designated NFA warehouses. 

Hence, there is no need for the presence of NFA personnel at the ports. 

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , Harry Roque , Trade Department Consumer Protection Group , National Food Authority
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