SONA Fact Check: Gov't efforts hurting rice hoarders
Manila, Philippines – In his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Benigno Aquino III warned unnamed government officials that they would end up in prison once evidence against them are completed. And he wasn't talking to anybody involved in diverting or pocketing some discretionary fund.
He was talking to officials who are being investigated for allegedly conniving with rice hoarders and smugglers.
Rice hoarding is blamed for the insufficient supply and rising prices of rice, which the President said the government is addressing. Efforts are undertaken too to help farmers become more productive, he said.
Rappler checked Aquino's statements against other sources and found that, with rice sufficiency level at 96%, government efforts have started to hurt rice hoarders.
In his SONA, the President said the following rice importations had been made or approved since November:
- 500,000 metric tons of rice to supplement decreased supply due to the typhoons; approved in November; complete supply arrived last March
- 800,000 metric tons, in fulfillment of our buffer stocking requirement; approved in Febuary; 360,750 MT arrived in July
- 500,000 metric tons, to be done through open bidding; approved in July
"The NFA also has the standby authority to import an additional 500,000 metric tons to prepare for the effects of calamities on harvests and rice prices," the President said.
Near-100% rice sufficiency
The Office of the Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization confirmed the additional importation of 800,000 metric tons of rice, approved last February, and importation of another 500,000 metric tons approved last July 22.
The entire 800,000 MT of rice will have arrived in the Philippines by the end of August, according to Secretary Francis Pangilinan.
Pangilinan also confirmed that the National Food Authority (NFA) is on standby to import yet another 500,000 MT.
These importations are to drive down prices of rice and, as Aquino mentioned in his SONA, to outwit rice hoarders and smugglers who are counting on a dearth of rice in the market to drive up prices.
But in a radio interview, Senator Grace Poe said importing rice should not be the government's sole course of action in ensuring there is enough rice for the country.
"The focus has been to import as opposed to helping our own farmers attain higher yield from their fields," she said in a Bomba Radyo Cebu radio interview.
The President said in his SONA: "We are providing our farmers with modern equipment to ensure the efficiency of planting and harvest. From 2011 to May 2014, we have already turned over 4,628 units of production machinery, 11,362 units of post-production machinery, and 105 rice mills to a number of farmers’ associations."
PhilMech Director Rex Bingabing confirms the accuracy of these numbers, but pointed out that some of the rice mills are still under construction. Beneficiary farmer associations have already been identified for these mills. (READ: Machines on PH farms: Catching up with ASEAN integration)
According to the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Philippines is currently 96% self-sufficient in rice. The agency set a 100% self-sufficiency target for 2013 but it was not met because of the disasters that damaged many rice fields.
"Apart from investigating those who have allegedly hoarded NFA rice, we are also probing all those in concerned agencies who may have conspired with these hoarders," Aquino said in his speech. "Employees suspected of wrongdoing are already under scrutiny, so that we may file charges, and eventually, imprison those who must be held to account."
DA Secretary Proceso Alcala earlier told Rappler of his suspicions that people in government had been working with rice hoarders and smugglers. He said complaints have been filed against some government employees, with further investigation underway. – Rappler.com
Filipino farmer image via Shutterstock