Press Release
January 9, 2010

Villar: Government Should Stick to Rice Self-Sufficiency Target
Next Administration Should Implement Strategies with No Delay

With the prices of commercial rice on an upward trend again, Nacionalista Party President Senator Manny Villar said the government, particularly the next administration, should not dilly-dally anymore in making the country rice self-sufficient once and for all.

"For the longest time, the government has been postponing rice self-sufficiency goal. It seems that this plan has been put permanently in the backburner. The next administration should definitely set this goal on fire once and for all," said Villar. Agriculture is a key priority in Nacionalista Party's platform.

The Philippines' rice self-sufficiency goal has been pushed back several times due to the government's gross underspending in irrigation and postharvest. At the start of the decade, economic managers vowed that the country would be 100% rice self-sufficient by the end of the decade, only to push it back to 2013.

As a result, the current administration has resorted to "rice import spree" to beef up the country's rice stocks, prompting the Nacionalista Party head to call on Malacañang to invite Churchmen to sit in the team that will buy rice abroad. Villar said this would ensure that transactions in the planned P51-billion importation of the country's staple for this year is overboard.

"Dapat nga ay mas agahan pa sa 2013 ang goal dahil matagal na itong pinagpaliban-liban. Kailangan ang pangmatagalang solusyon sa krisis sa bigas. Hindi pwedeng isang kahig isang tuka ang pananaw sa suplay ng bigas, na kapag paubos na magpupursigi sa pagkahig. Dapat may sapat o sobra pang suplay," ayon kay Villar.

Villar cited that even the Group of Eight (G8) countries has re-assessed its approach toward food security, which shifted its strategy from food aid to farming and agricultural development.

"We have experienced food or rice shortage so many times and we have also proven that bandage solutions such as dole-outs or food aid do not work. We need to have a sustainable strategy. The key to food security is long-term investment in agriculture particularly in post-harvest facilities," the former Senate President added.

Even the United Nations itself has acknowledged that the recent food crisis is a result of decades of under-investment in agriculture. "If you neglect agriculture, you affect the lives of 40 to 50 percent of our people. This consequently leads to poverty and increased hunger," Villar has earlier said.

Based on data from the National Food Authority, the country has a total inventory of 2.5 million tons of rice to date--995,000 tons of which are in NFA warehouses and households have more than a million tons and the remainder is in commercial establishments. NFA procured 450,000 tons of palay in 2009, which is not even half the year's target of 1 million tons. The Philippines remains as the world's largest rice importer.

Rice imports, for delivery in the first half of the year, are expected to hit 2.27 million MT. Of these, 1.82 million MT were contracted, mostly from Vietnam, in four tenders in November and December. At an average $480 per metric ton, with a greenback fetching 47 pesos, total bill for the said volume is about P51 billion.

'Guardian angels'

Villar has earlier said that "tough negotiators" should sit in the government procurement team for imported rice as he warned that a mere difference in the contract price would "spell millions if not billions of pesos in savings."

"We need guardian angels in the biggest government transaction of the year. A mere $10 overprice per metric ton will already result in a 'tongpats' of P1 billion," Villar added.

"We are not accusing anybody of anything, but we don't want our buyers - those who will spend our money - to be pussyfooting or playing under-the-table games with the sellers," Villar said.

As non-government personalities, Churchmen, including Catholic and Protestant bishops, are allowed under Republic Act 9184, or the Government Procurement Reform Law to sit as observers in government bids and awards committees.

Executive Order 662 further strengthened their role by allowing NGO representatives to sit in the private-public Procurement Transparency Group that will review contracts costing more than P100 million, Villar said.

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