President Rodrigro Duterte’s call to traders to help boost the rice buffer stock of the National Food Authority to provide consumers continuous access to affordable rice may be imperiled because of the lack of coordination among government agencies in implementing the presidential directive.
This emerged after the Bureau of Customs seized some 100,000 sacks of imported Thailand rice bought by Sta. Rosa Farm Products, one of the first companies to heed the president’s call and pledge to provide at least 700,000 sacks of rice to help replenish the NFA stock.
The different varieties of imported rice was intended to be sold between P34 and P37 per kilo in Metro Manila, which was facing a shortage in NFA supply and to complement the “Tulong sa Bayan” caravan aimed at bringing affordable rice to Filipino consumers.
“Our company immediately responded and committed to help the government when the president publicly announced that he was scrapping the import quota in order to bring in more rice and bring down the prices for the benefit of consumers, particularly the low-income households” said Jomerito Soliman, owner of Sta. Rosa Farm Products.
“And despite our efforts to coordinate with appropriate government agencies―all backed by documents―our rice imports were seized. This is not very encouraging to rice traders,” Soliman said.
Soliman presented documents, all with received stamps by relevant government agencies, to prove that the papers for his rice importation were in order.
President Duterte in April made separate public pronouncements that he was abolishing the quota on rice importation by private traders to ensure the NFA rice reserves are sufficient, affordable and accessible to consumers as long as they pay the proper tariff.
Soliman said Sta. Rosa Farm Products heeded the government’s directive to help the NFA boost its rice stock and to lower the price of rice, but the lack of coordination among implementing government agencies led to the seizure of some 100,000 sacks of rice it imported from Thailand. These were later auctioned off by the BoC even before the expiration of the prescribed period for appeal.
The NFA, in a letter dated July 27, 2018 addressed to Soliman, upheld the rice importation of Sta. Rosa Farm Products, saying it was in line with the president’s order removing the rice quota on importation, subject to 50-percent tariff imposed by the BOC.
“But now, I am being falsely charged and tried before the bar of public opinion for allegedly violating the laws and portrayed as a hoarder. This is totally untrue.” Soliman said.
To disprove the allegation that he was a hoarder, Soliman presented a report submitted by NFA Bulacan provincial manager Elvira Cruz Obana to NFA administrator Jason Aquino, saying that as per order of the president and inspection by the agency’s enforcement team for possible hoarding of NFA rice in the Malolos warehouse of Purefeeds Corp. and its sister companies, which he owned, authorities found no evidence of hoarding.
“Malicious rumors harm all traders like me who conduct their operations with full transparency in accordance with the law and in coordination with the relevant government agencies,” Soliman said.
He said while legitimate rice traders supported the government’s drive against smuggling, his situation appeared to be unsettling importers who were willing to help the Duterte administration, in fear of being labeled as hoarders or smugglers.
“We support the government’s drive against rice smuggling. Smuggling is not only detrimental to the interests of Filipino farmers, but also to the interests of legitimate rice traders like me,” he said.