Duterte to meet rice traders Thursday to discuss NFA woes

MANILA President Rodrigo R. Duterte will be meeting with rice traders on Thursday to discuss the reported low buffer stock of National Food Authority (NFA) rice, a Palace official said Wednesday.

Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Jun Evasco, Jr., Chairperson of the National Food Authority Council (NFAC), made this announcement following concerns that rice stocks are quickly depleting.

That's why the President will be meeting with big rice traders tomorrow afternoon, because the President will have a take on that, Evasco said in a Palace briefing.

Evasco explained that it was the rice traders who could manipulate the presence of rice in the market.

He said that Duterte would be meeting with traders upon the recommendation of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel PiAol, who suggested that their meeting could preempt whatever plans of these traders.

Moreover, Evasco said that the President could also ask the traders to help the government rather than take advantage of a situation to make money at the expense of the consuming public.

Only one mouthpiece

Evasco, meanwhile, reiterated the order of President Rodrigo R. Duterte to allow only one mouthpiece to speak on the country's current rice supply.

There was an order from the President that first, there should only be one mouthpiece coming from the NFA - and it is only the Chair, so as not to confuse and to create panic among our people regarding rice, Evasco said, referring to himself.

The NFA Council is the NFA's policy-making body composed of the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance, Department of Trade and Industry, Central Bank, Landbank, representative of a farmers' organization throughout the country, among others.

The way things are now, there are so many voices -thereby muddling, confusing the issue on rice and creating panic on the part of traders and the part of consuming public of rice, he added.

Evasco said the NFA should stop issuing statements which would attempt to muddle the issue on rice.

Asked if the abolition of NFA is being considered, Evasco said it would only be considered if there is enough rice in the country to feed the people.

Evasco said that the council has no position on ouster calls against NFA Administrator Jason Aquino, who announced last month that the NFA buffer stock was only good for less than two days.

He said that it was up to the President to decide on calls for Aquino's removal.

If there are some sectors calling for his removal, it should be the President who should react to that because it is the President who appointed him. In fact, I should keep silent on that because it's not mine to comment on that, he added.

Evasco, however, said that the NFA's current inventory is now 0.35 days equivalent to 200,000 rice bags.

He said the immediate solution to address the country's rice woes include the fast-tracking of the purchase of rice, incentives given to Filipino farmers to sell rice, and active monitoring on the warehouses to know whether there is rice hoarded or rice that should be brought to the market.

Source: Philippine News Agency