Group blasts confusing Noynoy tack on NFA

The Daily Tribune


The Aquino administration can’t seem to get its act together on the fate of the National Food Administration (NFA) as it gives conflicting statements amid the overpriced rice importation controversy during the term of former President Arroyo, a network of food security advocates said.

The Task Force Food Sovereignty (TFFS) said President Aquino should declare once and for all his administration’s plan for NFA.

The group, in a statement, said the Aquino government is confusing the public on the fate of the agency with conflicting statements.

Aquino exposed the rice scam in a speech at the 65th anniversary celebration of the Liberal Party last Wednesday, stressing the need to reform the agency. “Let us reform the NFA. Let us reform its mandate so it will be much better,” he said.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, however, speaking before businessmen in a forum on the same day, said that the government may shut down the agency as three of its four functions may be devolved, limiting the role of the government to “simply perform the function of a buyer of last resort.”

Abad said that NFA’s subsidy function “can be best done by the Department of Social Welfare and Development [DSWD] through the Conditional Cash Transfer program.” The function of procuring rice from farmers will be done by the private sector as “there’s an emerging consensus” to bring them in the rice trade. The agency’s regulatory function on the trading, he said, can be transferred to a unit in the Department of Agriculture.

Abad claimed that he already discussed his proposals to the President on two occasions. TFFS lead convener Arze Glipo said that what is more confusing is that the administrator of the very agency Abad is referring to is not aware of his plan to “shut down” the NFA.

“What is the real plan of President Aquino as regards the NFA?” Glipo asked. “We welcome his statement that the NFA be reformed because we have been demanding it from him since his first day in office. However, our farmer members are now confused with the conflicting statement of Secretary Abad and the seemingly oblivious Administrator Banayo,” she added.

Last Thursday, NFA Administrator Angelito T. Banayo was surprised to hear about Secretary Abad’s proposal from the press, adding that he met with President Aquino this week and there was no mention of the move to shut down the agency.

“The proposal to devolve the functions of NFA is an anti-farmer and anti-poor strategy and should be immediately dismissed by the President. Instead of listening to Secretary Abad’s proposal, President Aquino should strengthen the mandate of NFA and at the same time weed out the corrupt officials in the said agency” Glipo said.

TFFS reiterated its demand to overhaul NFA “from top to bottom, amidst the complaints of millions of poor consumers that NFA’s rice subsidies do not reach them, yet billions of pesos are lost to shady deals in the importation and distribution of rice.” Beyond this, however, TFFS said that the country should strive hard to eliminate, dependence on rice importation that has made the Philippines extremely vulnerable to global price and supply fluctuation of rice. The group explained that it will lessen not only corruption but also rampant smuggling.