, JANUARY 25, 2011 (BULLETIN) (Xinhua) Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the state-run National Food Authority (NFA) to import only sufficient amount of rice at a price that is most reasonable, a senior government official said Monday.

"The more immediate task is to make sure that we do not engage anymore in dramatic importation of rice as we did in previous years," Presidential Communications Development and Strategic Planning Secretary Ramon Carandang said in a news briefing.

NFA Administrator Angelito Banayo earlier disclosed that the agency has incurred 177 billion pesos (3.98 billion U.S. dollars) in debt due to excessive importation of rice in 2010.

In his report to the President, he said that only one group or person benefited from the excessive importation of rice. Banayo declined to identify this group. Rice importation over the last three years were three times more than what the country needed and was also over priced at 125 U.S. dollars per metric ton, he added

When asked whether President Aquino plans to see through the continued operationor abolitionof the NFA during his six year term, Carandang replied this is not the time "to make a definitive statement on the future of the NFA."

"The priority right now is to make sure that we import the proper amounts of rice when they're needed and at a price that is most reasonable, something which the NFA had failed to do in previous years. So if we can do that this year, and we can save money for the taxpayers, then I think that will be the more immediate step," Carandang said.

The Philippines is the world's biggest rice importer, procuring over 2 million tons in 2010.

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Philippine President Aquino exposes rice scam Norman Bordadora Philippine Daily Inquirer Publication Date : 20-01-2011

(PHOTO - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III whispers something to Liberal Party president Mar Roxas during the party’s 65th anniversary celebration held at Club Filipino in San Juan City on Wednesday. EDWIN BACASMAS/PDI)

(ASIAN NEWS MAGAZINE) Just one person or group appeared to have earned a windfall when the outgoing Arroyo administration allowed the private sector to import 200,000 metric tons of rice last year, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III said on Wednesday (Janaury 19).

The Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, bought from abroad a total of 2.47 million metric tons of the grain for its requirements in 2010, an election year. The state-owned National Food Authority (NFA) imported the bulk of the country’s staple.

“(Administrator Lito Banayo) is puzzled why the manager’s checks of those who were given a chance to import came from only one bank,” Aquino said on Wednesday in a speech at the 65th anniversary celebration of the Liberal Party.

“And it allegedly doesn’t stop there. The checks were in sequential order. It appears that only one group or one person benefited there,” the President said.

He also said the volume of rice that the country imported last year was not only three times more than what was needed but was also overpriced.

Sought for comment on who or which group could have cornered the rice importation quota for the private sector, Mr. Aquino begged off from revealing any more information.

“Pasensya na (Sorry). We want to ensure the facts before we accuse anybody,” the President said in a text message.

Asked how much money was covered by the checks that paid for the rice imported by private traders, Aquino said, “a more formal audit is currently being conducted.”

“Once completed, we will inform all of you,” he added in the text message.

Banayo wasn’t immediately available for comment on Mr. Aquino’s remarks.

An NFA audit found that 8 of the 10 awardees of the rice importation quotas in Luzon region were all cooperatives with offices in Pangasinan province, said a source privy to a Malacañang (presidential palace) probe of the previous administration’s massive rice importation program that the NFA said was overpriced.

Aquino earlier said he had given instructions to several departments in connection with the overpriced imports.

“Several departments have been given assignments which I am not yet at liberty to discuss,” the President said.

In his report to Aquino last week, Banayo said the private importation deals were given to favored contractors supposedly through a questionable first-come-first-served scheme.

“Among the findings were: fictitious cooperatives and corporations were given the quotas, and qualifications standards were extremely liberal,” Banayo said in his executive summary submitted to the President.

In the same report, Banayo said an audit of NFA importations during the Arroyo years showed that rice was overpriced by an average US$60 per metric ton over 10 years.

In the last three years, Banayo said the overprice was $125 per metric ton.

Excessive, overpriced

The NFA chief said the huge overprice and excessive importation of rice pushed up the NFA debt to 177 billion pesos ($237.9 million). NFA losses largely stem from its sale of rice to the poor way below the actual cost.

“We bought more rice than what we needed in 2010. It was estimated that we needed 1.3 million tons of rice. That’s why we imported more than two million tons of rice - almost 2.5 million tons,” the President said in his speech Wednesday before his party mates.

The President said the authority to import was “times three of what was needed.”

“What’s painful is that the overprice was estimated at $60 to $125 compared with the benchmark prices of the (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations),” he said.

“Just multiply the factors. My calculator can no longer handle it,” he added, to show how huge the amount involved was.

During the global cereal crisis in 2008, huge Philippine importations of rice increased the cost of the grain on the international market.

800 warehouses

The President said that as a result of the over importation, the NFA had to double its number of warehouses to store the grain.

“(We) needed to rent warehouses. The 400 warehouses of the NFA were insufficient. It became 800,” he said.

The President asked his party mates both in the executive branch and in the legislature to reform the NFA.

“The rice imports in 2008 were used up in 2010 but we also imported in 2009 and in 2010. What a waste,” he said.

“Let us reform the NFA. Let us reform its mandate so it will be much better,” he added.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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