P2 hike in NFA rice fuel rice smuggling says groups

THE  fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and the peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) today theorized the smuggling of 33 container vans of imported rice from Vietnam seized by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in Cebu was fueled by the recent P 2 per kilo increase in the price of National Food Authority (NFA) rice.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap and KMP spokesperson Antonio Flores , in a joint statement said Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala and NFA chief administrator Lito Banayo should realize that recent P 2 hike in the price of rice approved by the NFA council further agitated and emboldened rice syndicates to smuggle imported rice to the country and gain shoo-in super profits as a result of the increase in the price of NFA rice from P 25 per kilo to P 27 per kilo.

“Coincidence? We don’t think so. The smuggling of 33 container vans of Vietnam rice came two days after the NFA announced it will raise the retail price of rice by P 2 per kilo. That announcement sparked the renewed campaign of smuggling rice giants to heighten their syndicated activities,” the Pamalakaya and KMP leaders said in their joint statement.

The two groups urged Secretary Alcala and NFA administrator Banayo to immediately recall the approved P 2 increase per kilo in the price of NFA rice and rollback the price of NFA sold rice at least by P 9 per kilo from the current P 27 per kilo to P 18 per kilo, the latter was the price of rice six months ago or before President Benigno Simeon Aquino III assumed the presidency from former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The BoC in Cebu seized on Thursday a shipment of 33 container vans filled with smuggled rice from Vietnam. According to a filed report, the rice arrived on a cargo ship that came also from Vietnam.

According to Cebu Customs Collector Ronnie Silvestre the operation was conducted jointly with the Office of the Customs Commissioner after they received information that the shipment consigned to five companies in Cebu was mis-declared as aluminum bars and raw metal rods.  Silvestre after he received reports of the smuggling, he immediately alerted the intelligence section to hold the container vans carried by Kota Hening V. 24 vessel that arrived last Sunday from Vietnam.

The Customs personnel opened 10 of the 33 vans and found that it contained hundreds of sacks of imported rice and were reportedly consigned to five companies in Cebu. Each container contained P 600,000 worth of smuggled rice.

The alert order issued by the Bureau of Customs identified three of the five Cebu-based consignees as E.P. Precision Cebu Parts, said to be operating the Mactan Economic Zone (MEZ), K&A Metal Industries and Asian Craft Cebu Inc., the last two companies based in West Cebu Industrial Park in Balamban town, Cebu.

Earlier Pamalakaya and KMP assailed the P 2 per kilo increase in the price of the NFA rice saying the real score is that NFA wants to earn big profits like a private firm engaged in wholesale and retail sale of rice.

The Pamalakaya and KMP said instead of increasing the price of NFA rice by P 2 per kilo, the government should have rolled back the price of rice by not less than P 10 per kilo or from P 25 per kilo to at least P 15 per kilo. The groups argued that the role of NFA is to subsidize the farmers and make rice affordable to millions of poor Filipinos, instead of making money by increasing the price of rice by P 2 per kilo.

“The P 2 increase in the price of rice is an economic injustice both to farmers and the poor consumers. The NFA is exploiting both the farmers and the poor consumers to raise additional funds for importation of rice abroad and pave way for the grand privatization of the agency. Please allow us to reiterate the orientation of NFA which is mandated by law to procure farmers produce and sell cheap rice to the rice eating public through state subsidy,” the Pamalakaya and KMP said.

Pamalakaya and KMP suggested that instead of hiking the price of rice by P 2 per kilo, the NFA should compel Malacanang to transfer the entire P 21 billion awarded to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for the conditional cash transfer (CCT) to the food authority so it could increase the palay buying capacity of NFA to at least 10 percent and restore back the P 14 per kilo of rice previously sold by NFA to the consuming public.

“The NFA can still buy the palay of farmers at P 15 to P 17 per kilo and sell NFA rice at a subsidized price of P 14 per kilo. That’s public service and that is in the national interest of the Filipino people,” the groups said.

Citing a recent study made by IBON Foundation, Inc., the KMP and Pamalakaya asserted the P21.7 billion allocated for the CCT, if spent on NFA palay procurement, would benefit around 289,333 rice farmers at the support price of P15 per kilo and an average harvest of 100 cavans per hectare per rice farmer.

They said farmers would earn gross sales of P75, 000.00 in one harvest season. If spent on capital subsidies for farmers, it could have benefited some 868,000 to 1.1 million rice farmers, raising their incomes from nothing to as much as P257 a day.

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