By Marc Wyxzel C. dela Paz, September 11 2019; Business World

Image Credit to Philippine Star

REPRESENTATIVE Jose Ma. S. Salceda, the House Ways and Means committee chair from Albay’s 2nd district, said he supports more borrowing by the National Food Authority (NFA) to boost its rice procurement funding to about P22.5 billion.

The NFA recommendation was contained in an aide-memoire to President Rodrigo R. Duterte and was among five proposed measures to address the collapse in purchase prices for palay, or unmilled rice.

“NFA should [be] allowed to borrow to triple its current buying operations from P7.5 billion to P22.5 billion. DA and DTI (the Departments of Agriculture and Trade and Industry) should implement comprehensive farmer assistance to affected farmers.”

The NFA pays a support price to farmers for their palay — currently at P17 per kilogram according to the NFA website, plus incentives — which is often much higher than what commercial traders are willing to pay. The onset of liberalized rice imports has softened the market for purchasing domestic rice, with some key rice provinces reporting that the price offered by private traders was as low as P7 during the current harvest. Expanding the NFA procurement budget would allow more farmers to benefit from the NFA price while traders are reluctant to buy.

Mr. Salceda’s other proposals include stepped-up price, import volume, and warehouse inventory monitoring by the DTI, DA and the Philippine Statistics Authority.

Mr. Salceda also said the DTI along the Department of Justice and the Philippine Competition Commission prepare to prosecute traders for profiteering, economic sabotage, and price manipulation.

He also recommended that “legal recourse should be made available for farmers.”

“Actions that can be undertaken in this regard include a government hotline for complaints of farmgate price manipulation, information campaigns on traders that offer the highest buying prices, and support for government efforts to procure its buffer stock, relief operations, and local services needs from farmers at fair prices,” Mr. Salceda said.

He urged the President to pursue a program of “economic tokhang,” deploying his political capital to defeat rice cartels.

Tokhang” is a Visayan term used in a so-called persuasion campaign against drug offenders, who were identified and visited in their homes by police and local officials and urged to surrender or seek treatment.

Buksan mo ang mga warehouses nila, tignan mo ang kanilang mga business records (open up their warehouses, inspect their business records), ask the (Bureau of Internal Revenue) to look into (or audit) their operations… and then after that submit it to the DoJ,” Mr. Salceda told reporters.

Mr. Salceda said Congress and the Executive branch should cooperate in helping farmers capture more of the value for their produce by providing the means to cut out middlemen, including “well-planned rural infrastructure and improved access to market information.” — Marc Wyxzel C. dela Paz