Harebrained idea

THE only people who are bent on abolishing the National Food Authority (NFA) are those who believe in the mantra that only the private sector is efficient and that government should have nothing to do with the market, even the one that provides for food that everyone needs.

Other drumbeaters for the dismantling of the food agency are those who had intimate knowledge about the global rice trade and stood to benefit from over-importations and are now stumbling upon each other to paper over the anomalies that had swamped the NFA in the last nine years.

Bohol Rep. Arthur C. Yap has already filed a bill to reduce the functions of the NFA and transform it into a mere grains buyer.

This proposal is being opposed by Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano, who insists that before they dismantle the agency, a thorough study must be conducted to determine who profited from over-importations and mismanagement.

For him, the culprits are the policy and the people who craft such policy at the NFA and not the mandate of the agency.

Surely, he said, those who led NFA know what happened and Mariano wants them to be quizzed, along with the members of the NFA Council that control the policy of the agency.

Curiously, the ones who sat at the NFA Council like Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, are now the ones seeking to mangle NFA.

He wants the National Food Authority (NFA) retained to pursue its mandate to buy 10 percent of local palay output annually and wonders why the function of selling or distributing should be transferred to the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), which has no experience in this regard.

Rice is so strategic a commodity but Abad and company feel that only a 30-day buffer stock should be maintained during the lean months and 15 days for the harvest season.

Studies have shown that in rice surplus provinces, 25 percent of the grain is kept by farmers for their use while those in rice deficit provinces stash away 46 percent.

Mariano says that the volume would not be enough to supply the needs of consumers, considering that the country is prone to natural calamities.

He recalled that since 2000, the US government had already called for the complete privatization of the rice trade but universal opposition to it led to its shelving for 11 years.

“On its face, the Aquino government wants to pursue an anti-poor and anti-worker policy and it is very clear that it is acting with servility, heeding the call for a policy that would wreck local rice trade, scrap the role NFA role of setting palay procurement prices due to its market presence, and give the function of importing rice to private traders who would then dictate prices during the lean months,” Mariano said.

DSWD is not equipped to distribute rice nationwide, particularly to farmers themselves, 44 percent of whom live below the poverty threshold, while 49 percent of fishermen could rise beyond subsistence level.

Earlier, Agriculture Secretary Proceso J. Alcala said the abolition of the NFA is “easier said than done” and noted that the agency was created by law and could not be dismantled by an executive order or a lobby by any pressure group.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) also condemned what it called “harassment” by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), which is headed by Secretary Butch Abad, Soliman’s ally who belongs to the Hyatt 10 along with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima.

DSWD received a 123 percent increase in its budget while the Department of Agriculture (DA) suffered a 35 percent slash, thus scrimping its ability to

Even the NFA Employees Association (NFAEA) slammed the Palace action, tagging it as a move preparatory to the abolition of the food agency.

KMP and NFAEA said the abolition of the state food agency in Indonesia did not only trigger higher food prices but also allowed speculators to play the market and create artificial shortages favorable to profiteers.-Joel Paredes

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