MANILA, MAY 16, 2008
(STAR) By Christina Mendez - The country faces a problem in rice production, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap told senators who grilled him during a joint public hearing at the Senate yesterday.

Yap told members of the Senate committees on food and agriculture, trade and commerce, public works, and civil service and government reorganization that the country needs to import 2.1 million metric tons to fill the gap in rice supply.

He added that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been conducting immediate moves to deal with the impending rice crisis.

To help increase rice production and attain the government’s plan to impose zero importation on rice by 2010, Yap told the panel that the DA has allocated P1 billion as rice subsidy while local government officials have agreed to set aside P12 billion of the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) for the purchase of fertilizer.

“That is what we are doing right now. We have set aside an initial P12 billion. The governors and local government units have agreed to monetize their IRAs. As I understand, the governors and mayors will use the monetization to increase food production through input support,” Yap said.

The DA secretary had met governors and local mayors for the implementation of the fertilizer program.

Yap explained that DA has started providing fertilizers to local farmers to boost production during the harvest season in October and November. Repair for irrigation and other farm utilities will come by December or early January in preparation for the dry season harvest.

Yap said the country has to cover 2.58 million hectares for rice production to increase the yield to over 17 million metric tons.

Sen. Manuel Roxas II said the government could focus on producing the additional 5 million metric tons of rice needed in the next three years, after the DA finally admitted that there is a problem in the production of rice.

As an immediate measure to increase rice yields, Roxas, chairman of the committee on trade and commerce, said the government should consider measures such as providing additional fertilizer for farmers in the form of more access to loans.

“Now, it is clear that our harvest will increase by five million metric tons every year to reach the level of self-sufficiency in the next three years,” he said.

Fairly satisfied with the results of the initial hearing, Roxas requested from the DA a rundown of national government allocations for addressing the rice crisis, to see which are new appropriations and which are merely “repackaged” funds, and the department’s rice economics for a hectare of land to determine the weighted average yield for various types of land and types of grain, and also plans for fertilizer use and the estimated increased yield.

Yap promised that the DA would try to look for a formula to provide data on rice production in terms of harvest from irrigated and rice-fed lands.

During the hearing, Sen. Edgardo Angara also called on concerned government agencies to create policies needed to achieve rice and food sufficiency.

Angara pointed out that the ultimate goal of all these hearings is to come up with a package of reforms.

“We have got to improve our productivity through various methods available today,” Angara, chairman of the committee on food and agriculture, said.

Through a series of hearings under his committee, Angara plans to convene all concerned government agencies to find out the status of rice production and importation, and from there set the government’s policy direction.

He said that the current global food crisis that triggered protests worldwide could destabilize the government and negate the gains made “unless we resolve it quickly and firmly.”

Angara, a former agriculture secretary, said the rice crisis is acutely felt in the Philippines because the country relies heavily on imports.

He added that the cyclone which devastated Myanmar’s rice harvest adds pressure to the rising prices of rice in the local market.

In order to avert this crisis, Angara said that the government must embark on a rice self-sufficiency program.

He expressed hope that the rice self-sufficiency program of the International Rice Research Institute and DA can make the country 90 percent self-sufficient in the staple food by 2010.

The Philippine Rice Self-Sufficiency Plan for 2008-2010 aims to achieve 100 percent rice self-sufficiency by 2010.

Roxas said that at present, farmers do not have access to affordable financing for fertilizers and other farm inputs, that is why they often fall prey to usurers.

“Two bags of fertilizer good for one hectare would cost about P3,000. The question is, how do you get the P3,000 worth of fertilizer to the farmer which would up his yield from the present 4 metric tons per hectare?” said Roxas during the Senate committee on agriculture’s hearings on the rice situation.

Roxas added that increasing access to fertilizer loans was an immediate measure that should be followed by other long-term measures.

Vietnam rice

Meanwhile, Yap said Vietnam is urging the Philippines to explore an alternative arrangement that would allow the Vietnamese to fulfill its commitment to supply the country with rice.

Yap said the Vietnamese government had written him following the failed bidding conducted by the National Food Authority (NFA) to secure 675,000 metric tons of rice through a rice tender which required a sovereign guarantee requirement from bidders.

Yap said the Vietnamese want to comply with a Memorandum of Agreement wherein Vietnam agreed to supply up to 1.5 million metric tons of rice to the Philippines.

He said Vietnam also seeks alternative schemes for selling rice after the Vietnamese complained that the current NFA bidding method has affected the domestic price of rice in Vietnam.

Vietnam, along with Thailand, had been critical of the public NFA rice tenders that they claim have resulted in the increase in global prices.

The NFA rice tenders are conducted in a public and transparent bidding process that is monitored by foreign news organizations.

Because the Philippines is now the biggest importer of rice, its purchases have an impact on global rice prices.

Decreasing production and increasing demand for rice has resulted in a rice price crisis that has already seen riots in some countries with a short supply of the grain.

Yap refused to confirm, though, if the Philippines would agree to a more secretive negotiation.

Charges vs traders

The Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday recommended the filing of lighter charges against seven erring rice traders as President Arroyo again visited the department to follow-up the progress of the cases against alleged rice hoarders.

The President had ordered the DOJ to go after suspected rice hoarders, but hoarding was not among the charges filed by the DOJ’s Anti-Rice Hoarding Task Force (ARHTF).

In an 11-page resolution approved by Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño, the DOJ recommended the filing of charges in relation to the alleged violation of Presidential Decree No. 4 and the Revised Rules and Regulations on Grains Business (RRRGB) or lack of

signboard for warehousing against Romeo Mariano Jr. and Eleanor Rodriguez.

Charges of violation of Presidential Decree 4 in relation to Regulation V1, Section 1 of the RRRGB (Lack of Guaranty Bond and Fire Insurance) were also recommended to be filed against Rodriguez.

Also recommended to be charged were traders Francisco Dio, Arnel Lagonoy, Mary Ann Magno, Geonell Vin Centeno and Delia Barreda. They were charged for violating Section (c) of Presidential Decree 4 in relation to Regulation XV, Section 1A(g) of the RRRGB (Diversion).

Meanwhile, the complaints of illegal price manipulation through hoarding (Republic Act 7581), unauthorized possession of government rice stocks and unauthorized re-bagging of government stock in commercial sacks, lack of signboard, lack of NFA license and no record of rice transactions that was filed against trader Anthony Choi Angeles were ordered dismissed for insufficient evidence.

The DOJ also dismissed for lack of evidence the complaints of illegal price manipulation, hoarding, unauthorized possession of government rice stocks, unauthorized re-bagging of government stocks in commercial sacks against Mariano.

Likewise the illegal price manipulation and hoarding complaints filed against Rodriguez, Meynardo Guerra, Dio, Lagonoy, Magno, Centeno, Barreda, Sofia de Guzman, Prestifero Prado, Leonides Manalo, Lydia

Supremido were ordered dismissed for insufficiency of evidence.

The President, who arrived at the DOJ at about 10 a.m., only stayed for about five minutes and was briefed by Gonzalez on the progress of cases against the suspected rice hoarders.

Gonzalez said that to be able to file a case for hoarding, the DOJ said a person must have 50 percent more stocks of any basic necessity than the usual inventory, and unreasonably limits or fails to sell these stocks to the general public.

“In all of the complaints, there was utter failure to prove that respondents have rice stocks of more than 50-percent of their usual inventory,” the DOJ said.

Gonzalez said the President was pleased with the progress of the charges filed against the erring rice traders.

Rice from Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog

Central Luzon farmers can supply some 518,300 metric tons of rice to Metro Manila and another 129,575 metric tons to provinces in Southern Tagalog.

DA regional director Redentor Gatus said Central Luzon expects a bumper harvest this year that will exceed the needs of the region’s 6.1 million residents.

“It’s a plan that we and other officials from the DA central office came out with to ensure adequate supply of food in Mega Manila,” he said.

Gatus, however, assured Central Luzon residents that the region’s consumers would be given priority in the distribution of locally produced rice and only surplus grains will be shipped to other regions.

He said that for the second semester, Central Luzon is expected to harvest 40 percent more than the 647,876 metric tons of rice requirements of the region. The excess will then be brought to other parts of Metro Manila.

This means that some 518,300 metric tons of rice produced in Central Luzon will be distributed in Metro Manila while another 129,575 metric tons will go to provinces in Southern Tagalog.

The provinces with surplus rice include Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Tarlac and Pampanga.

Gatus said that aside from the bumper harvest of rice, hog and poultry farms in Bulacan, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija are also expected to have surplus pork and eggs.

Gatus said Pampanga had pledged to supply 14,000 metric tons of chicken, 2,120 metric tons of vegetables, and 7,877 metric tons of eggs to Metro Manila.

He said the DA plans mobilize other rice-producing regions to sell their surplus grain to stabilize the food supply and stop the increase in prices.

Meanwhile, Gatus also said he will look into reports of shortage of ginger in Central Luzon markets.

Ginger has vanished from markets in Pampanga and nearby provinces. A few stores selling limited supply have been selling ginger at P180 per kilo.

Gatus said among the main suppliers of ginger are Aurora, Quezon and some parts of Southern Tagalog. With Mike Frialde, Marianne Go, Ding Cervantes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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