Duterte prohibits NFA Chief from talking about rice supply

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 7) — The government sets the tone on pronouncements about the rice situation: Only the National Food Authority (NFA) Council can speak publicly about it.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said President Rodrigo Duterte gave the directive during Monday's Cabinet meeting.

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco chairs the council with NFA Administrator Jason Aquino as vice chairman. It has a number of members including Bangko Sentral Governor Nestor Espenilla, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

Roque said the Cabinet discussed Aquino's announcement that the country only has two days of rice buffer stock, way below the required 15 days.

He said this is "misleading" as it gave the impression of a rice shortage, causing prices of  affordable and commercial rice to go up.

Roque said the limited supply of government-subsidized rice would only be considered a shortage if the NFA is the only rice supplier in the country, which is not the case.

"There was an acknowledgment that statements made by the NFA Administrator caused panic, which probably caused prices to rise. There was some disagreement on the figures presented yesterday by the NFA Council. But ultimately, it was agreed that there is no rice shortage because the figure of 'only 1.5 days worth of supply of rice' was misleading," he said on Tuesday.

Aquino was not in the Cabinet meeting, but Roque said the NFA Chief was asked to attend a two-hour cluster Cabinet meeting on rice in April.

The NFA Administrator also received a tongue-lashing from Senator Cynthia Villar during the Senate probe on the rice situation on February 27.

Villar confronted Aquino for sowing panic and confusion when the agency announced a shortage of affordable rice.

CNN Philippines Senior Correspondent Ina Andolong contributed to this report.