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NFA not against rice tariffication

National Food Authority (NFA) OIC administrator Tomas Escarez today clarified that NFA management is not against rice tariffication amid accusations that NFA is opposing the recently-signed law.

“We fully support and we abide by the President’s approval of the rice tariffication law. But as long-time workers in government and in fulfilling the mandate of food security for our country, we only wanted to point out the implications of some provisions in the proposed bill, before it was signed into law,” Escarez explained.

Escarez said that prior to the signing of Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law, NFA sent letters to the concerned Senators and Congressmen, the NFA Council and the President to appeal for a veto of certain provisions in Senate Bill 1998, which was unanimously adopted and ratified by the House of Representatives and Senate as the final version.

Among the provisions NFA wanted to clarify were: the repeal of NFA’s regulatory functions over the domestic grains industry and the definition of buffer stock which was limited to addressing the needs for emergencies and calamities.

On the removal of NFA’s regulatory functions, the agency pointed out that these were not explicitly transferred to any other government agency. As such, all grains businessmen will then be free to conduct their business in whatever manner they like, without rules to follow.

Escarez said: Since NFA or any other agency will no longer license, monitor or enforce rules and regulations, it will be a chaotic situation for the local grains industry – the same situation that necessitated the creation of the National Grains Authority in 1972 “to put order to a chaotic grains industry.”

“Imagine our own traffic-plagued roads. What will happen if drivers will not be required to get a license to drive, there are no traffic rules to follow, and there is no agency to instill discipline and order in the transport system?” Escarez asks. The same situation could happen to the grains industry, and this is what we are concerned about, he explained.

“When there are spikes in rice prices, especially during the lean months, will it not constitute a man-made emergency that would require government intervention to stabilize the market? Also, NFA’s function under the Food Safety Act of 2013 covers both imported and local rice. If this function is removed, how can government ensure rice safety in the domestic market?” These are some of the issues we want clarified. And since the law is already there, we continue to seek clarifications on these issues in the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR),” Escarez said.

Escarez explained that right now, NFA management is also focusing on how to make the agency’s transition from a food security and stabilization agency to a buffer stocking agency less painful for its affected employees who are bound to lose their jobs.

“We are doing everything to get the best deal for our employees who will be affected by this move. With the clipping of NFA’s powers and functions, many of our employees will also have to go. The best that government can offer to reward them for their long, honest and dedicated service is for those who are willing to go to get a reasonable compensation package and for those who want to stay to be assured of their security of tenure as eligible civil service employees,” Escarez said.

Meanwhile, until the law’s IRR is finalized, it will be “business as usual” at NFA, Escarez said. NFA will continue to aggressively buy palay from farmers at P20.70/kilo even as farmgate prices are now down at P14-P15/kg. “We will continue to distribute rice in the markets at P27/kilo, at 10 percent market participation, to provide the poor, marginalized consumers with affordable, good quality and safe rice. We will also continue to monitor and police our grains businessmen to ensure fair trade among themselves and for all rice consumers,” he said.

In his message to employees last February 18, Escarez said: “Whatever role will be given to us, we must accept wholeheartedly, change gears, but still provide the best brand of service that NFA has always been known for.”

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