Bella Cariaso – The Philippine Star
August 28, 2023 | 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines is experiencing a rice shortage amid an insufficient buffer stock, as the total stock is pegged at 39 days in August and 44 days in September compared to the 60 to 90-day buffer stock needed.
“That is why we are trying to import a little bit more,” Agriculture Undersecretary for policy, planning and regulations Mercedita Sombilla told the House committee on appropriations during a recent hearing on the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s proposed P167.5-billion budget in 2024.
“In other words, we have three months for the remainder of the year where we have shortages,” Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said as she urged officials to issue a categorical answer on the country’s current rice situation.
The expected rice inventory for October is 63 days, 80 days for November and 59 days for December, according to Sombilla.
The DA expects at least seven million metric tons of local palay production for the rest of 2023, which includes 2.3 million metric tons for the third quarter and 4.7 million MT for the fourth quarter, she added.
“We expect local prices to be in the level of P45, P47, P50 (per kilo) for premium, and special rice. Hopefully, with the coming of the harvest season (in October), we would probably expect it to level off to lower prices,” Sombilla noted.
Retail prices of local regular milled rice ranged between P36 and P44 per kilo a month ago compared to the latest prevailing price of P55 per kilo or a difference of P11 per kilo, according to data from the DA.
Local well-milled rice ranged between P40 and P49 per kilo a month ago compared to the latest P57 per kilo or a difference of P8 per kilo.
Local premium rice ranged between P42 and P49 per kilo a month ago compared to P60 per kilo or a difference of P11 per kilo, while local special rice is between P48 and P60 per kilo compared to the latest prevailing price of P54 to P62 per kilo.
‘RTL a failure’
The Duterte administration’s Rice Tariffication Law is a failure, according to former agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
“(The RTL is a) failure. Rice is not like tomatoes. If you flood the market, you need to sell them in the afternoon at all costs to prevent rotting. On the contrary, you can hoard rice, you can control the supply of rice, you can control the prices, especially so that these big businessmen dealing with rice trading will agree among themselves informally, ‘hey let’s peg the price of rice,’” Piñol said in a radio interview over the weekend.
“The supervisory power of the National Food Authority was removed. It can no longer conduct inspections on the quality of rice sold in the market. The NFA cannot intervene in the retail prices in the market. The P27 (per kilo) of NFA rice is no longer available, simply because of the idea that if you flood the market with rice, the cost will go down” he added.
Piñol, Duterte’s agriculture secretary from 2016 to 2019, said he had opposed the RTL’s passage but former finance secretary Carlos Dominguez pushed for the measure.
“It was from… Dominguez where the crazy idea of free market (came). What they (proponents) did not understand, once you let go of the rice industry, it will go to the cartel. They (rice cartel) control the rice industry,” he added.
Piñol urged President Marcos to issue an executive order directing local government units to form localized rice sufficiency programs, noting that urban cities can engage with rice farmers’ cooperatives.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez gave assurance yesterday that the Bureau of Customs’ recent “surprise inspections” of warehouses in Bulacan suspected of hoarding rice to reduce its price was “not a one-hit wonder.”
“We need to carry out more of these inspections and I trust the Commissioner to do so in order to keep rice traders obedient to the law,” Romualdez said, referring to Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio.
He vowed that rice would not face the same issue as last year’s onions, when it reached the absurd price of P700 per kilo.
The inspection of warehouses in Bulacan on Aug. 24 resulted in the Great Harvest Rice Mill Warehouse, the San Pedro Warehouse and the FS Rice Mill’s owners being restricted from retrieving goods pending submission of required documents on their rice importation.
The price of rice is projected to reach P60 to P65 per kilo in the coming days. — Delon Porcalla