[PHOTO AT LEFT - A farmer spreads palay for drying on a basketball court in San Fernando, Camarines Sur. President Arroyo said yesterday the government is in talks with Thailand for supplies this year and hopes to bring in shipments by June. Photo by EDD GUMBAN]

MANILA, April 3, 2008 (STAR) President Arroyo is seeking to increase the country’s rice buffer stock in preparation for the rainy season’s lean months.

Speaking to reporters in Hong Kong before returning home last night, Mrs. Arroyo said she would discuss with Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej the possibility of importing rice from Thailand when she arrives in the country on Friday.

“The important thing is the delivery by June,” she said. “Because I think the 1.5 million metric tons from Vietnam will cover our needs, but the timing of the delivery is important so if Thailand can assure that they can also deliver, that they still have and that they can deliver by June, we will also order from Thailand.”

Mrs. Arroyo said she would like to secure a commitment from Sundaravej that the rice imports would come by June.

“We don’t know how much they (Thailand) will make available. Vietnam already announced a 30 percent reduction in their exports so it’s a good thing that we went ahead (in negotiating with Thailand),” she said.

“But that’s already for additional buffer to make sure that in June when the rainy season happens, we have rice at that time,” she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government will continue to strive for rice self-sufficiency through the agriculture modernization program.

“So we are doing that, increasing and stabilizing the supply of rice and delivering targeted subsidies to the poor because they are the ones directly affected by the global price rises,” she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said she had initial talks with Thai officials when she dropped by Bangkok on the way to Davos, Switzerland last month.

Thai officials assured her that they would export rice to the Philippines, she added.

Mrs. Arroyo said the administration has allocated P23 billion to implement the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.

“We directed the (concerned) government (agencies) to crack down on price gouging,” she said.

“We’ve delivered rice to the poor and we’ve gone to the markets to spot check if there are any NFA rice, to check on the prices.”

Mrs. Arroyo rejected proposals to cut tariff on rice because if prices in the world market rise, the private sector would not resort to importation.

“So what will happen is you just end up reducing the government revenues,” she said. “Cutting tariff is not a practical solution.”

Mrs. Arroyo said half of the world depend on rice, with world consumption about 430 million MT.

The world will produce less than that so the whole world is vulnerable, she added.

Several days ago, panic buying of rice took place in Hong Kong since 80 percent of its rice supply comes from Thailand, Mrs. Arroyo said. — Paolo Romero

GMA signs 4 agreements with Palau president Thursday, April 3, 2008

Palau President Tommy Remengesau concluded his two-day state visit to the Philippines yesterday with the signing of four agreements between the two countries on various fields of common interest.

Remengesau, who arrived in the country on Tuesday, witnessed the signing of the agreements with President Arroyo in Malacañang yesterday.

The agreements covered air services, academic cooperation, medical tourism and communications.

Palau and the Philippines signed an amendment to its bilateral air services agreement that would expand and enhance the positive air services relations that started when the initial agreement was signed in 2003. Transportation undersecretary Doroteo Reyes, chairman of the Philippine Air Services Panel, signed on behalf of the Philippine government while Minister of Commerce Otoichi Besebes represented Palau.

“We have a wonderful interaction of people between our two countries. That is why we are happy that today there was a signing of an amendment, an expansion of our air services agreement with each other so that this two-way exchange of tourists, diving tourists and medical tourists will become bigger than ever,” Mrs. Arroyo said in her speech at the state luncheon she hosted for Remengesau.

The Philippines and Palau also signed a memorandum of understanding where both countries would exchange knowledge and expertise on medical tourism/medical referral and higher education.

In the field of education, a memorandum of agreement on academic cooperation was also signed between the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Palau Community College.

Under the agreement, the two countries would strive to promote cooperation in higher education and professional training, including the development of institutional linkages at the undergraduate and post-graduate levels.

CHED chairman Romulo Neri signed the agreement on behalf of the Philippines while Minister of State Temmy Shmull signed for Palau.

The fourth agreement was forged between two private corporations – the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) and the Palau National Communications Corp. (PNCC) for the establishment of direct communication links between the two countries.

In a statement, PLDT said that the memorandum of understanding with PNCC would transform and strengthen the long-standing informal relationship between PLDT and PNCC. – Marvin Sy

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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