Senator Villar proposes rice price ceiling

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(File photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — A senator called for setting a price ceiling on rice in the wake of skyrocketing prices  of the staple.

Senator Cynthia Villar, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food chairman, said a state of calamity could be declared on rice so the government can control its price.

As an alternative, the senator said the Department of Trade and Industry could come up with a suggested retail price for commercial rice varieties, and call out retailers who do not follow them.

Villar said the recent spike in rice prices and the infestation of imported rice by weevils showed the National Food Authority (NFA) is not doing its job.

She said rice prices should not have reached P75 per kilogram as was the case in Zamboanga City, since the cost of its production was only around P25 to P30.

"The NFA failed in its mandate and that's why we're suffering like this... Kung ako ngayon, because they have failed in their mandate at ganyan, ba't di na lang tayo mag rice price control?" she said.

[Translation: The NFA failed in its mandate and that's why we're suffering like this... If it were up to me, because they have failed in their mandate, why don't we have a rice price control?]

She added, "Kung mas better pa, mag-declare ng state of calamity sa rice and impose price control, kasi I don't think malulugi sila maski mag-price control."

[Translation: If it would be better if a state of calamity would be declared over rice and impose price control, because i don't think they'll lose any money even with price control.]

Blame game

Meanwhile, officials from the NFA and its policy-making body NFA Council are blaming each other for the spike in rice prices.

In a hearing at the House of Representatives Tuesday, NFA Deputy Administrator Tom Escares blamed the bureaucracy, saying the NFA requested for the importation of one million tons of rice as early as October last year, but the process was "complicated" and implored the House of Representatives for help.

"I hope that Congress may help in the situation we have. We have a council over and above us. It is the council which will say how much we procure, at kailan ito darating. Before, hindi ganon. It's the NFA. 'Pag sinabi niya, 'The President says ok na importation,' okay na rin 'to sa council but still subject to evaluation," he said

[Translation: I hope that Congress may help in the situation we have. We have a council over and above us. It is the council which will say how much we can procure and when it will arrive. It was't that way before. It's the NFA. When they say, 'The President says its okay to import.]

However, the NFA Council only approved the request last May.

Escares identified the culprit behind the confusion over supply.

"Burukrasya... If it would cost me my job, (it is) bureaucracy. When it comes to bureaucracy, pasikot-sikot po ito. Naging dahilan kung bakit may delayed arrival. San ka naman nakakita na darating ang bigas ng June, e kung yung klase nga minove ng September. Yung arrival pa ng bigas, e talagang aabutan ng basa yan. Talagang di mauunload yan." he said.

[Translation: Bureaucracy...if it would cost me my job it is bureaucracy. When it comes to bureaucracy, it's complicated. It has become the reason for delayed arrivals. Where else can you find rice deliveries in June, when even classes are moved to September. When it comes to rice deliveries, it will be greeted by rain. It really won't be unloaded.]

The NFA Council is composed of 11 agencies, including the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The DTI said the NFA failed to submit to the council its inventory of rice supply.

This, in turn, delayed the Council's approval of the rice importation request.

Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo said, "Some time middle of last year, (the NFA) council is asking for inventory of rice supply by NFA. This was before the request for the permission to import for this year. NFA was not able to submit such inventory, which caused the delay of the approval of the council for the new importation."

Castelo said NFA's statement of a shortage in rice supply triggered the spike in rice prices.

"The inflation, according to the NFA council, the inflation rise was triggered by the declaration by NFA that there was no more rice supply. Yes, it was out in the media, it was speculation. But coming officially from the NFA Administrator was the main trigger for the inflation," she said.

She believes some businessmen took advantage of the situation and increased their prices.

In April, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol said the NFA Council could face reorganization over the shortage of affordable rice.

CNN Philippines' Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.