Press Release
April 4, 2018

As PH copes with 1.6M new rice eaters a year, factionalized rice team could spike price of 'volatile political commodity'

President Duterte should whip his "compartmentalized rice team" to get their act together because "rice is a volatile political commodity" in which the "slightest perception of shortage" could shoot prices up and hurt the poor most, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said.

"There seems to be policy incoherence. Or at the very least, instead of being on the same page, different parts of the orchestra are playing different music. The President should grab the baton and be the master conductor," he said.

"When the public receives mixed signals on the status of what they eat, it leads to market disruption," Recto said. "Bumili lang ng dagdag 10 kilos ang bawat household, malaki na ang epekto nito sa supply, especially if the buffer is thin," he explained.

"Politically, a nation will tolerate all kinds of queues - MRT, passport. But rice queues must be avoided at all cost. And at present, there is no need to, because--thanks to our farmers--of the recent record rice harvests," Recto said.

But Recto said despite the stable national stock, there is a need to make rice affordable to the poor who cannot afford expensive fancy varieties.

"The poorest 30 percent of families spend 70 percent of their income on rice. And for many of them, 22 centavos for every 1 peso they earn are spent to buy rice," Recto said.

"To prove that they're not forgotten, the government should deploy rolling rice stores to poor urban areas to show that there's enough rice," he said.

He said the President should regularly meet the "Big Four" in rice policy - the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Finance, the Cabinet Secretary who heads the NFA Council, and the NFA Administrator - so that "all the important actors shall speak in one voice, and move towards one direction."

"Hindi lang naman NFA 'yan. The big picture is production, which is DA's responsibility. And all aspects of the industry, where government is involved, whether production, or NFA procurement, needs funding, and the one who must raise the money is the Secretary of Finance," he said.

"Mahilig tayo sa unli-rice. Every Filipino on the average eats about 108 kilos of rice a year. But our population grows by 1.6 million annually. 136 Pinoys already consume 14.7 tons of rice annually. Because we have more mouths to feed, we have to boost rice production, and that costs money. Sa patubig na lang, we have to expand our irrigation footprint by at least 70,000 hectares a year," Recto said.

"But if we can't be fully rice self-sufficient, then we have no option but to adopt a sound rice tariffication policy, so that there will be no supply gaps," he said.

Recto said government should also see to it that "the needle on NFA's debt should not move up as taxpayers are also saddled by P172 billion in NFA liabilities."

If there's one priority area which should be funded, it is the reduction of postharvest losses, Recto said.

About 17 percent of palay harvest is lost to absent or poor post-harvest facilities and practices yearly, resulting in a wastage of about 2.5 million metric tons of rice - enough to cancel yearly imports or meet the annual rice needs of Metro Manila, Recto explained.

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