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Imee: No takers for Agri post

Senator also hits NFA for not spending budget to buy more palay

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been actively looking for an agriculture secretary, but there seems to be no takers, Senator Imee Marcos said on Thursday.

“He is fully aware [of the situation]. And I think he’s been looking for an agriculture secretary but I feel that nobody wants to accept,” the President’s older sister said.

Earlier this week, the name of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan was floated as a possible contender for the Department of Agriculture portfolio, with no less than Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno describing it as a “sound proposal.”

Balisacan, however, said there was “no such offer.”

As this developed, Senator Marcos chided the National Food Authority for using only 30 percent of its budget – funds that could have been used to buy “palay” (unhusked rice) from farmers as a buffer stock for the government.

“Why don’t we pick up our local farmers who have been suffering from poverty? Why didn’t the NFA buy rice before July and August?” she said.

“They still have many money. Why don’t they buy rice from our local farmers? Why was there a need to embark on importation?” Marcos added.

She said rice importation should not be a knee-jerk solution but should be a last resort.

The NFA, for its part, said it has not been remiss in its mandate to buy rice from farmers, and that it is on track of its procurement target for 2023.

“The doors are always open all the time for farmers who wish to sell their palay to the government,” the agency said.

“But the problem is that we don’t have the necessary drying capacity for wet rice. And that’s what the traders are buying. Especially in the wet cropping season, when the harvest cannot be dried properly by farmers for lack of drying facilities,” it added.

For 2023, the agency has been given P9 billion to procure 9 days’ worth of buffer stock from farmers, but the budget has yet to be released, it said.

“The government usually releases the allocation in the third quarter of the year. Our budget is usually allocated during the wet season cropping. We are yet to get our budget for rice procurement,” the NFA said.

“So what they’re saying that we haven’t even spent the P8.5 billion is misinformation on their part. The money is not yet with us. Most of it is allocated in the second half, particularly in the third quarter,” the agency said.

Except in 2022, the NFA said it has always hit its target procurement.

In recent years when the NFA still exercised its previous food security mandate of keeping buffer stocks at 30 days inventory for the rainy season, the agency said it has exceeded its mandate more often than not by 200 percent.

In 2022, NFA missed 20 percent of its procurement mandate of 7 days as there was an upward pressure on the grain.

Last year, the buying price of palay went to as much as P22 to 23 per kilogram against NFA’s P19/kg.

In other developments:

• Agriculture Undersecretary Leocadio Sebastian said the government expects to import much less than the 3.8 million metric tons projected by the United States Department of Agriculture. “This indicates that the volume we imported in 2022 was much more than the deficit. We also expect that with the intensified efforts to produce more rice locally, we will import less than the projected 3.8 MMT in 2024. The uncertainty of depending on external sources for our staple and the high price of imported rice makes it imperative for us to produce more locally,” Sebastian said. The USDA report said the Philippines is set to overtake China as the world’s top importer of the food staple.

• Senator Ronald dela Rosa backed the passage of a bill that imposes tough penalties on those engaged in crimes regarded as economic sabotage in a bid to address the smuggling of rice and other agricultural products in the country. Under SBN 2432, economic sabotage is defined as activities such as “disrupting the economy by creating an artificial shortage, promoting excessive importation, manipulating prices and supply and evading payment or underpayment of tariffs and customs duties,” among others. “I must say that this is truly a proactive and prompt response to the alarming number of cases of smuggling in the country,” Dela Rosa said. — Othel V. Campos and Macon Ramos-Araneta with Charles Dantes


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