NFA Council warns private rice traders against hoarding

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12) — National Food Authority (NFA) Council Chairman Jun Evasco expressed his suspicion that private traders may be hoarding rice — the reason prices are going up.

In the wake of rising prices of commercial rice, the policy-making NFA Council held a special session on Monday. It confirmed the NFA only has two days worth of buffer stocks, instead of the mandatory 15 days.

But Evasco said the low NFA rice supply shouldn't result in the staple getting more costly.

"Buffer stock is designed to be kept in consideration of calamities, disasters, and other difficult situations," he said in a media briefing.

He reiterated there is no rice shortage. So what is causing the spike in rice prices?

The NFA Council chief suspects some private rice traders are hoarding - holding on to their stocks and waiting for the time they can sell it at a higher price.

He said these hoarders will be criminally liable for their actions.

"Economic sabotage talaga 'yan. Can you sleep at night when a lot of people don't have anything to buy and yet you are hoarding, you are keeping so much? They get to be prosecuted," Evasco said.

He added the NFA has been told to be more "pro-active" in inspecting warehouses of private rice traders and prosecute those found keeping their stocks that results in price manipulation.

Evasco said while they're not accusing the NFA of wrongdoing, he warned it would be considered neglect of duty if the agency is found colluding with hoarders.

For now, the Council is banking on the expected surge in supply to stabilize prices.

President Rodrigo Duterte has given his go signal to import 250 thousand metric tons of rice covered by a previously approved "standby authority."

This supply will come in after the harvest season in June and will add to a separate foreign shipment coming in under the country's arrangement with the World Trade Organization.

Under the so-called minimum access volume, more than half a million metric tons of rice with low tariff will arrive by end of February until August this year.

Evasco said rice shipments from abroad should help prop up buffer stocks. It will raise the supply and lower what the council believes may be artificially high prices caused by those exploiting the situation.

"Iyang pag-hoard, it's not just only criminal liability. At the same time, immoral talaga yan," Evasco said.