Senate probe into rice shortage should unmask 'NFA syndicate' – Poe

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Grace Poe backed a Senate investigation into the shortage of rice at the National Food Authority, and said the probe should unmask long-rumored syndicates in the NFA.

In separate statements on Saturday, February 10,  Poe and Senator Francis Pangilinan supported the call of Senator Cynthia Villar for a probe into the supply of NFA rice, after it was confirmed that the agency had low stocks.

Poe said the probe would also address rumors on the existence of an NFA "syndicate."

"Bakit tayo umaabot sa nagkukulang tayo? Meron bang sindikato diyan sa loob na nagpipigil na ang tamang datos ay lumabas? Talagang sapat o 'di sapat?" Poe said on Saturday. 

(How did we reach this point that we have a shortage? Is there a syndicate there that is keeping the right data from coming out. Is it enough or not?)

"Ilang dekada nang nagkakaroon ng haka-haka at ugong-ugong tungkol doon sa mga sindikato diyan sa NFA. 'Yung ating imbestigasyon noon sa rice smuggling, hindi pa yata nareresolba 'yung mga taong nabanggit doon at wala pa yatang napapakulong. Siguro dapat balikan natin iyon dahil kriminal na pigilin ang malayang pagbebenta sa tamang halaga," she added.

(The rumors and speculations about a syndicate in the NFA have been around for decades. Our previous investigation on rice smuggling did not resolve anything, no one was put behind bars. Perhaps we should take another look at that because it;s a crime to stop the sale [of rice] at the right price.)

Poe was referring to the Senate inquiry into alleged rice smuggling in 2014.

Pangilinan said in a radio interview that he supports the Senate investigation as the public needs to know why the buffer stock for NFA rice had gone down from the required 15 to 30 days to just a couple of days.

Pangilinan, who used to head the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization (OPAFSAM), said the investigation would also determine whether the country needs to import rice at this time.

On Wednesday, February 7, NFA Administrator Jason Aquino clarified there was no rice shortage in the country but admitted that the NFA inventory was running low, with about 1.2 million bags enough for only 35 days.

Aquino is looking at the importation of rice as another mode of replenishing the buffer stock, but the NFA Council has not yet approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice.

Agriculture groups condemned the possible importation of rice due to the reported shortage, saying that these stocks would likely arrive in time for the local harvest season and push down prices.

Malacañang had thumbed down any rice importation at this time since about 325,000 metric tons of rice would arrive this month. – Rappler.com

Aika Rey

Aika Rey is a business reporter for Rappler. She covered the Senate of the Philippines before fully diving into numbers and companies. Got tips? Find her on Twitter at @reyaika or shoot her an email at aika.rey@rappler.com.

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