NFA Council to authorize increased imports for subsidized rice

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 31) — The National Food Authority (NFA) Council will authorize an increase in imports for government-subsidized rice, Malacanang announced Friday.

"Dahil sa mga pangyayari po at para mapababa po ang presyo ng bigas, maga-authorize po ang NFA Council para sa pribadong sektor na mag-angkat ng bigas beyond the minimum access volume for 2018," Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

[Translation: Due to recent events and to lower the rice prices, the NFA Council with authorize the private sector to import rice beyond the minimum access volume for 2018.]

"We ask the cooperation of the NFA Administration in this regard," he added.

The NFA and its policy-making body, the NFA Council, butted heads on who to blame for the price hike during a Congress probe on Tuesday. The Administration blames the bureaucracy for delaying action on a request to import rice earlier, while the Council maintains the NFA failed to submit its inventory. Moreover, it blamed the NFA's unverified declaration of a shortage as a trigger for businessmen to jack up prices, causing inflation.

RELATED: NFA: Current rice supply not enough to stabilize prices

Meanwhile, Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos wants the NFA abolished altogether. The agency was institutionalized by her father, the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos.

"It's time perhaps to abolish NFA. Tinatag yan ng ama ko pero ako na ang magsasabi na binaliktad nila ang purposes ng NFA," she said.

[Translation: My father founded it, but I'll be the one to say that they are twisting the purposes of the NFA.]

However, some rice consumers find this idea troublesome — as NFA-subsidized rice is the only kind that they can afford.

The NFA on Friday also announced its decision to create a technical working group to coordinate with other law enforcement agencies and fight rice smuggling.

"With the formation of the TWG to work closely with the different enforcement agencies, we hope that we can finally stop any moves of some people or groups to control the rice trade," NFA Administrator Jason Aquino said.

In Congress, the House of Representatives passed a measure on rice tariffication, which President Rodrigo Duterte declared a legislative priority in his State of the Nation Address.

At present, private rice traders can ship 805,200 tons of rice annually without tariffs. The proposal removes this restriction, and instead imposes a general tariff on all rice imports.

CNN Philippines Correspondents Ina Andolong and Joyce Ilas contributed to this report.