NFA Council: Less than a day worth of NFA rice buffer stock left

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 4) — The buffer stock of government-subsidized rice in the country is down to 200,000 bags, according to the body authorized to speak about the rice situation.

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, who chairs the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, on Wednesday revealed NFA's buffer stock is only good for less than a half a day, or "0.35 day."

"That is if there is no rice produced tomorrow," he said in a Malacañang press briefing.

This is way below the mandatory 15-day buffer stock of affordable rice that caters to millions of poor Filipinos.

Evasco was pressed for comment as there is no more NFA rice being sold in some markets in Metro Manila.

No more NFA rice?

A visit to the NFA's warehouse in Quezon City on Wednesday showed it was almost empty. Custodians told CNN Philippines the remaining sacks of NFA rice are for employees and the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Vendors at the Nepa Q Mart and Tandang Sora Market in Quezon City said they were told they would be getting NFA rice until June, but supplies stopped coming since January.

Consumers of NFA rice are left with no choice but to pay at least P13 more for a kilo of rice.

NFA rice is more affordable at P27 per kilo. The cheapest commercial rice now sells at P40 per kilo.

Retailers also confirmed the wipeout at least in the whole of Luzon.

The Grains Retailers' Confederation of the Philippines Inc. (GRECON) said only some island provinces like Bohol have NFA rice.

"Walang masyadong malaking impact sa big retailers kasi nagbebenta din kami commercial eh… small retailers selling NFA rice 'yun ang may impact," GRECON president Jaime Magbanua said.

[Translation: There is no huge impact on big retailers because we also sell commercial rice. Small retailers selling NFA rice will be the ones who will be affected.]

Evasco said President Rodrigo Duterte is meeting with rice traders on Thursday to make sure they will not take advantage of the situation.

"It was proposed by the Department of Agriculture Secretary that rice traders must be called and let the president talk to them so that we can preempt whatever plans of these traders and we can ask the traders to help us," Evasco said.

He earlier expressed suspicion some private rice traders are hoarding, holding on to their stocks of rice and waiting for the time they can sell it at a higher price.

READ: NFA Council warns private rice traders against hoarding

NFA Council vs. NFA management

The chief of the NFA Council is blaming NFA officials for causing panic over low NFA rice supplies.

"The way things are happening now, they create artificial shortage and pin down on the council that we're responsible in creating such situation of shortage when in fact we have checked that based in DA reports, there is so much rice," he said.

In the market, NFA rice is only a small portion - about 4 to 5 percent of the overall distribution of rice. But it is usually consumed by Classes D and E or around 8 to 10 million Filipinos.

READ: NFA: Low supply of affordable rice, but no rice shortage in PH  

Evasco said 250,000 metric tons of NFA rice are set to arrive by June, "so there is nothing to worry."

The purchase was ordered by Duterte in February following a statement from NFA Administrator Jason Aquino that the agency had a "very low" inventory of NFA rice.

In March, Duterte said only the NFA Council can speak about the rice situation.

READ: Duterte prohibits NFA Chief from talking about rice supply  

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque then said Aquino's earlier pronouncement was "misleading" as it gave the impression of a rice shortage, causing prices of affordable and commercial rice to go up.

Evasco said the council has asked an audit on how NFA buys and releases rice into the market.

He said reports show the NFA released one million bags of rice per month from October to December last year and January this year.

"Why will you release so much rice to the market when in time of harvest season?" he said. "There was less rice given to the market (during the) lean months meaning there were few rice available in the market."