Press Release
April 16, 2008

Transcript of interview with Senator Mar Roxas on ANC's 'Dateline' (excerpts)

On the rice crisis:

MAR: Our problem is there is not enough rice, so all of our focus must be in ensuring that our domestic harvest is as plentiful as possible. First let us stop all land conversions, and subsequent to that we can investigate how land that government has spent for irrigation was converted for other use, but that's for later on. Second, let's ensure that all of the inputs necessary for a plentiful harvest are available to irrigated lands. Third, let's open up the Agusan and Lanao marsh areas, because they're ideal for planting rice, and similar to the Vietnamese river delta basin. That is where we can get the best production of rice. Let's send the engineers to prepare it so that we can then begin planting. This problem is not going to disappear overnight, but what we can make sure of is that by next year, we will not have a problem anymore.

Q: Do you have a problem with the way the government is dealing with the situation?

MAR: If we have a rice rationing system, politicians will now say 'yung mga kakampi ko magkakabigas.' Whenever there is shortage or rationing, you now introduce the element of subjective choice, who gets what. Iyan ang mahirap diyan.

Q: Do you think that this NFA rice is not going to the poorest of the poor?

MAR: Absolutely. But that's a minor portion of the problem. The big diversions are not happening in the palengke, but from when the ships come in, and the rice goes to the warehouse. That's how the diversion happens, by the truckload, not by the sako.

Look at all of the government actions, they're relative to addressing the symptoms - preventing lines from happening, a raid of rice here and there, but these are mostly pakitang tao. The real problems happen, for example with rice diversion, when the ship unloads the rice and it goes by the truckload to the wrong warehouse, and from the warehouse it gets diverted for other uses. If it's by the sack, maliit na lang iyan. Deal with it at the basic level, not at the tingi level.

Q: Do you believe there's a rice cartel?

MAR: I don't think the cartel is as powerful or as big as people think it is, because rice is grown everywhere. If there was a cartel in one area, the barrier to entry is very low. The cartel happens, the control of the supply chain happens, not so much in the growing of the rice but in the financing side. If the traders already have the production because they lent the money early, then that is where the influencing happens. That's why Landbank and other financial institutions are supposed to be there. We are now seeing the results of the neglect in the financing side, the technology side, the irrigation side, the production side and on the milling and drying side.

NFA, at the beginning of the year, said they would import 2 million metric tons of rice, 17% of annual consumption, or 2 months' worth. But if you take a look at the wastage of improperly dried rice, improperly milled rice and rice that is wasted in the production process, the estimate is 30% of annual consumption. This is already rice grown domestically, we don't have to look for rice in other countries. So in that 30%, let's say we're able to solve even the 10%, biglang liliit ang problema natin. But that's not where the government is focusing, it's focusing on subsidizing rice.

Let me say this clearly, the government's response is politically influenced, it is looking at the political implications of this crisis. So what is it doing? It is buying internationally in P30 per kilo rice, and distributing it at P18 to P20 per kilo. So it is losing P10 for every kilo. If you take that P10 and say 'let's solve this wastage,' we will not have a shortage domestically, our farmers will make more money, and the prices will come down because there will be no shortage.

Q: Do you see any move in that direction?

MAR: I see summits and lots of photo-ops, but I don't see substantive progress in that direction. That's why it's unfortunate that the government activities are in police- the NBI will raid, the military will distribute - these are all in the distribution of rice, these are all for determining who will get the rice. But I have not seen much in - how do we produce more rice? How do we make sure that whatever remaining land we have for rice production is maximized?

Q: So it's a matter of putting in place the real solutions rather than looking good.

MAR: That's where I'm focusing to make sure this problem is not a recurring one. In the last 20 years, I think there were only two years that we did not import rice. This was not a problem because there was a surplus internationally. But now, the surplus is gone, so the old standby where even with our failures domestically - 'never mind, we can always import' - is no longer available. Now we need to see, whether we like it or not, we must produce our own rice. This is not just a slogan of 'food security,' we can see that if we don't produce our own rice, rice is at P30-P35 a kilo, from P24 a kilo a few months ago.

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