December 11, 2017 | MANILA, PHILIPPINES

Smuggled rice viewed as critical in improving estimates of nat’l inventory

AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said he will propose to Malacañang a new interagency body tasked with improving estimates for the country’s rice inventory, which will include data on smuggled rice.

Mr. Piñol, who has long been skeptical about the methods use by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), said on Tuesday that he will write President Rodrigo R. Duterte to authorize a task force that will include the Department of Agriculture, PSA, National Food Authority, Department of Trade and Industry, the Bureaus of Internal Revenue and of Customs, National Bureau of Investigation, and Philippine National Police.

“If you remember, I’ve been saying all along that our data on rice stocks is unclear... No one has a good estimate for the amount of rice inventory in the country, not even PSA,” Mr. Piñol told reporters in Quezon City.

“But you have to factor in smuggled rice... If we really would like to establish a credible stock position we need to account for smuggled rice. And the only way to do that is to inspect all the warehouses,” he added.

Mr. Piñol said that the rice inventory estimate process is expected to start before the end of the quarter and will be a continuing effort among agencies.

Mr. Piñol said he was due to submit a draft executive order to the Palace yesterday.

According to the PSA, rice stocks as of March 1, were at 2.18 million metric tons (MT), down 18.62% from a year earlier and down 5.23% from a month earlier.

The PSA said household stocks accounted for 52.95% of the total while 28.81% were in commercial warehouses, and 18.24% were in the National Food Authority (NFA) depositories -- the latter of which includes 77.70% of imported rice.

In an April 10 text message, NFA Spokesperson Marietta J. Ablaza said that NFA rice stocks are lower than the legal requirement for the agency to ensure a 15-day buffer stock at any given time.

The NFA said that it will need to import in preparation for the lean months, during which it is mandated to keep rice stocks sufficient for 30 days.

The lean months in July and August will require rice shipments of 490,800 MT.

However, Mr. Duterte has expressed a preference for local rice purchases, noting that the arrival of rice shipments coincides with the harvest season which ends May, possibly depressing prices and dampening farm incomes.

Mr. Piñol clarified that the President did not completely rule out rice imports.

“You have to reckon with what the President declared. He said nothing about not importing. He does not want the imports to coincide with the harvest. He also told the NFA that local rice purchases are a priority,” he said.

However, the NFA said it finds it difficult to compete with traders in purchasing from farmers because the government can offer only a P17 per kilo support price.

The NFA has a target to buy 4.61 million bags of palay, or unhusked rice, and has so far bought 134,355 bags in the first three months of the year. -- Janina C. Lim