MANILA, APRIL 14, 2008
(STAR) By Perseus Echeminada - The National Food Authority (NFA) announced yesterday that for the first time, the price of palay has reached P18-P20 per kilo, the highest in the history of the Philippine rice industry, despite the fact that it is already harvest season.

NFA Assistant Administrator Conrad Ibañez told reporters during the weekly Kapihan sa Sulo Hotel in Quezon City that soaring oil prices in the world market has triggered the increase that will also affect the price of rice in the coming months.

“With the boost in the prices of oil, corn and gasoline, it is inevitable that the price of palay will increase as well. With this kind of trend, the price of commercial rice will also increase to P28-P32 per kilo,” he said.

He said the current trend is already considered normal but if it continues, the price of NFA rice in the market could reach P30.

He added that the production of rice is very costly. With fertilizer now costing P1,400 per bag and prices of other inputs needed for rice production likewise soaring, farmers could not help but raise the price of palay.

Priests to sell rice

In another development, Catholic priests will soon be selling imported NFA rice to the poor if the proposal of the Diocese of Marbel to establish outlets in selected villages of South Cotabato and Sarangani towns will be approved by concerned government agencies.

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez, head of the Diocese of Marbel, said they wanted to assist the government in addressing the rice situation by helping the poor avail themselves of NFA rice.

Gutierrez said they are still completing all the documents necessary for the establishment and legal operation of their rice outlets.

“Our rice outlets will be selling the imported NFA rice at a price prescribed by the food agency. We want the poor to buy the rice sold by the government,” he said.

Gutierrez said he already talked with officials of the NFA and Department of Agriculture (DA) in Manila about the process of acquiring permits for his proposed NFA grain stalls.

He said once the concerned agencies give them the permits, they would immediately open the outlets.

The church’s proposal elicited positive reactions from the officials and various sectors of the two provinces.

In Koronadal City, Mayor Fernando Miguel has ordered the Department of Trade and Industry and the NFA to investigate allegations that some traders are taking advantage of the rice problem by mixing imported NFA rice with commercial grains so they could sell at a higher price.

In the Bicol region, the outlets of at least 76 erring NFA rice retailers have been padlocked in a series of inspections since last week, even as charges are being readied against them.

Edgar Bentolan, NFA-Bicol director, said 24 of these rice retailers were from Camarines Sur; 23 from Sorsogon; 19 from Camarines Norte; eight from Catanduanes; and two from Albay.

Bentolan said these retailers were engaged in rebagging, conversion of NFA rice to commercial rice, and not displaying the correct tag price.

Tomas Enrile, Legazpi office chief of the National Bureau of Investigation, said they are still conducting massive surveillance against erring NFA rice retailers to ensure that the charges they are going to file once apprehensions are made will stand in court.

Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, meanwhile, said he had asked the provincial government of Bohol to reconsider its executive order restricting the selling of Bohol rice to other provinces.

“Albay is a major rice producer. But its big population results in a 1.5 million-bag deficit. So I asked the Bohol governor to reconsider his EO to restrict export of Bohol output to other provinces,” Salceda said.

Legarda proposes rice coupons

Sen. Loren Legarda, on the other hand, has expressed support for a proposal to provide subsidized rice coupons for the poor for the duration of the rice crisis.

“We must cushion the impact of the high prices of rice on the poor as a humanitarian act. We are faced with an emergency resulting from wrong government economic policies and neglect of the farm sector. The poor should not be punished for the mistakes of their government. We should not let them starve,” she said.

Under the proposal, the Department of Social Welfare and Development will distribute rice coupons to persons categorized as “poor.” This would entitle them to purchase rice from the NFA at subsidized prices.

She also expressed reservations about the plan of the government to increase the price of NFA rice.

“NFA rice is already subsidized through farm-gate prices favoring the farmers. What is needed is to support the farmers through extension of irrigation services, fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies, farm-to-market roads and technical assistance,” she said. – Perseus Echeminada, Ramil Bajo, Cet Dematera and Aurea Calica

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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