GMA  APPROVES  DA  ACTIONS  AGAINST  RICE  HOARDERS


MANILA, MARCH 26, 2008 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo ordered yesterday the Department of Agriculture to undertake a shakeup in the rice industry to stop hoarding and the diversion of subsidized rice to commercial traders.

Mrs. Arroyo issued the order at the meeting of the National Price Coordinating Council at Malacañang, during which she also ordered the revocation of all the retailers’ passbooks to pave the way for the re-accreditation of all rice retailers.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap explained that the National Food Authority would issue new passbooks and that measures would be set in place to ensure that only one passbook is issued to every retailer.

A passbook allows a trader to draw 30 to 50 bags of rice from the NFA every week.

Yap admitted that several retailers have multiple passbooks, which if used at the same time would make monitoring more difficult.

Mrs. Arroyo’s instructions were in response to reports that some unscrupulous traders repackaged subsidized NFA rice and sold it as commercial rice.

The President said he has instructed Yap to monitor all NFA warehouses “so he can follow the big 10-wheeler trucks and see where they are bringing rice.”

“He is investigating all warehouses, watching them, re-licensing them. He shall hit the hoarders,” the President said.

Yap said that there are 300 to 400 warehouses all over the country and the ones in urban areas hold the largest stocks. “Those are the ones we will be monitoring,” Yap said.

Yap said the re-licensing of all palay millers and traders, as ordered by the president, would help in the monitoring of rice distribution in the coming months.

The tight supply of rice worldwide has sparked fears of a food crisis in the Philippines.

The National Government has released P1.5 billion to help the DA increase rice production, particularly in the poorest provinces.

Yap reiterated that “there is no rice shortage,” and that prices have considerably gone up due to various factors, including the surge in fertilizer and global crude costs, as well as effects of climate change.

“Go see for yourselves. Go to the market, go to the supermarket,” Yap urged the public.

Yap said that first semester rice production is projected to reach seven million metric tons from only 6.3 million MT in the same period last year.

Yap said that the NFA would be focusing on high-yield varieties such as the hybrid rice seeds, which he said would be planted in 100,000 hectares for the upcoming planting season.

“All the support has been laid down in order to prepare for the main planting season of June, July and August,” Yap said.

He said a Food Summit would be held on April 4 to discuss ways to improve food production.

President Arroyo appealed to traders to maintain the prices of their goods and not to use the reports of an impending crisis to justify price increases.

At yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, other proposals were raised to address the problem of rising prices of basic commodities, including importation of 150,000 MT of flour from China.

Trade Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya noted that manufacturers are also encouraged to offer more “bonus” or “econo packs,” which are usually P3 to P5 cheaper than regular packaged goods.

Gov’t hit for denying shortage

The United Opposition lashed out at administration officials for denying that the country is on the brink of a rice crisis.

UNO president and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay said the officials are “living in a fantasy world” for insisting that there is adequate rice supply.

“The Arroyo administration is once again in denial. It believes in a fantasy world where rice is plenty, no one is poor, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won the 2004 presidential election,” he said.

“When people take to the streets not for a political event but to demand rice on their tables, then perhaps the Arroyo administration will wake up from its daydreaming,” he said.

Binay also dismissed as publicity stunts President Arroyo’s provincial visits where she was photographed checking on abundant farm produce.

“For millions of poor Filipinos, the reality is that since Mrs. Arroyo occupied Malacañang, their conditions have gotten worse, and their ranks have increased. They can hardly put food on their tables, and now Malacañang wants them to reduce what little amount of rice they consume,” he said.

He added the administration’s appeal for Filipinos to reduce their rice consumption is a brazen display of insensitivity.

“The call for Filipinos to reduce their rice consumption is a display of callousness and insensitivity. The fact is millions of our countrymen subsist mainly on rice and have no money for anything else,” he said.

He said that what is clear is that “the administration has mismanaged Philippine agriculture, and the people are paying dearly for it.”

Well-funded

Congressional data showed that the government has spent more than P145 billion over the past 11 years to ensure the country’s food security in the face of globalization resulting from the General Agreement on Tariff and Trade (GATT).

Data made available to journalists yesterday by the House committee on agriculture chaired by Palawan Rep. Abraham Mitra showed that Congress started providing billions yearly in 1997 to protect agriculture, primarily the farming sector, from the adverse effects of GATT.

The agreement requires signatory nations to dismantle tariff and trade barriers and open their markets to exports. It was then Sen. Gloria Arroyo who sponsored and pushed for the ratification of GATT by the Senate.

Mitra said he is open to proposals by Senate President Manuel Villar that lawmakers review the direction of the country’s well-funded but shaky agriculture modernization program.

Mitra’s data showed that in 1997 alone, Congress allocated P14.5 billion to improve the production of agricultural products, principally rice.

Some P12.9 billion was appropriated in 1998 and P11.6 billion in 1999. The funds were described in the annual budget as GATT-related allocations.

But starting in 2000, the funds were labeled as AFMA or Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act appropriations. That year, Congress allotted P16.6 billion.

Some P11.4 billion was appropriated in 2001, P14.4 billion in 2002, P12.1 billion in 2003, P9.4 billion in 2004, P10.3 billion in 2005, P11.5 billion in 2006, and P20.4 billion in 2007.

The annual amounts set aside for the modernization of agriculture were on top of the yearly DA budget, which, for the past 11 years, totaled P43.8 billion. – With Michael Punongbayan, Jess Diaz, and Marianne Go

PGMA expresses sadness over Cory’s illness; joins nation in praying for ex-President’s full recovery

(MALACANANG) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo joined today the nation in praying for the speedy recovery of former President Corazon Aquino who is afflicted with colon cancer.

“Ipinananalangin natin ang paggaling niya at katatagan ng kanyang pamilya,” the President said in a statement.

The President also expressed sadness over the ill-stricken former Philippine leader.

“Nalulungkot tayo, ang sambayanang Pilipino, sa karamdaman ni dating Pangulong Aquino,” the President said.

She described Aquino as the icon of Philippine democracy who led the changes towards the nation’s peaceful transformation.

“Siya ang nanguna sa ating bansa sa mapayapang pagbabago,” President Arroyo said.

The 75-year-old Aquino’s illness was announced on national television by her Senator-son Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and TV host & film actress-daughter Kris Aquino who said that chemotherapy sessions for the former President start today with a continuous mild dose.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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