(File photo courtesy of the National Food Authority)

The possible signing of the Rice Tarrification Law is likely to remove the accreditation of 165 rice retailers of the National Food Authority (NFA) in public markets in Palawan.

NFA Palawan assistant provincial manager Nerilyn Conde said the proposed rice law will turn their accredited outlets into “regular retailers of commercial rice” since they will no longer have enough supply to sell in the market.

“Ang mga accredited retailing outlets natin, mawawala sila so magiging kagaya na sila ng iba na mga retailer outlets na ng commercial rice. So totally mawawala ang NFA (Our accredited retailing outlets will turn to just retailer outlets of commercial rice. The NFA will be totally out),” Conde said.

Of the total figure, she said 89 NFA accredited outlets are located in the mainland area and 76 in the Calamianes Group of Islands.

The Rice Tariffication Bill or Senate Bill 1998 seeks to amend Republic Act 8178 or the “Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996”.

Under the proposed measure, the NFA will no longer have the authority to monitor and regulate the entry of rice imports, including the decision in volume and to determine when to import.

Conde said the NFA will be limited to provide buffer stocks in case there are calamities through local procurement.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and local government units (LGUs) are only allowed to buy from the buffer stock of NFA during these times.

The importation will be open to the public, including private associations and individuals who will be willing to import bags of rice.

The agency will also no longer have supply from the importation that it can get through local procurement. It will not have the supply to distribute to retailers due to the absence of imported rice.

On January 15, the bill already reached the office of President Rodrigo Duterte for signing.

Conde said that as long as the bill has not yet been signed by President Duterte and its implementing rules and regulations have not been released, the NFA will stick to its mandate to buy palay and distribute rice to the public.

“Walang imported rice na papasok sa NFA, doon kami papasok sa local procurement. Nakasaad din doon na ang NFA ay for buffer stocking na lang, ‘yong buffer stocking natin is not to supply the needs of the consumers kung hindi ito ay intended for disasters and calamities. Kumbaga meron tayong stock, nakaantabay na lang kami kung mayroong calamity so si NFA ay naka-ready na dapat na may sapat na supply,” she said.

(There is no imported rice that will go to the NFA, we will be on local procurement. It’s stated there that the NFA will be for buffer stocking only, and our buffer stocking is not to supply the needs of the consumers but is intended for disasters and calamities. We have stocks, but they’re only for calamities and NFA should have sufficient supply.)

Conde said the NFA is continuously buying bags of palay from Palaweño farmers as a buffer stock of the agency.

She is optimistic, however, that the NFA can still buy local rice this year to reach its target of  251,000 bags of palay for 2019.

Currently, NFA is selling P27 per kilo of regular milled rice and P32 for well-milled rice.

Without the NFA in the market, there will be nobody to balance the price when commercial rice prices increase, Conde said, explaining that consumers cannot avail anymore of cheap and subsidized rice.

“Whatever price ang meron sa merkado, wala ng control ang NFA. Wala na rin stock ang NFA na magbabalanse sa presyo like kung katulad ngayon, mayroon tayong 27 pesos sa market while presyo ng commercial rice ay nagri-range ng 40 to 50 so mawawala na ‘yong stock ng NFA purely commercial na lang ang makikita natin sa palengke. Wala nang hihila ng mababang presyo,” she said.

(Whatever is the price of rice in the market, the NFA will no longer have any control. The NFA will no longer be able to balance prices like right now we have P27 per kilo in the market while commercial rice prices range from P40 to P50, so the NFA’s stock will no longer be available only commercial rice in the public markets. Nothing will influence prices to go down anymore.)

In 2019, the Department of Agriculture (DA) gave a P7 billion budget for the NFA to purchase palay in anticipation that the agency will no longer have the access to import rice bags as supply.

Meanwhile, Conde said the bill will also affect local farmers who fear that they will have nowhere to go but to the traders who will buy their products at much lower prices.

“Anong mangyayari sa mga farmer natin, kapag walang pondo, walang pambili ng palay ang NFA, saan pupunta ang ating mga farmer? (What will happen to our farmers if the NFA has no more funds to buy palay, where will the farmers go?)” she said.

If the market is weakened, rice farmers may opt to stop planting palay or sell their lands for residential and commercial use.

This is the worst situation for NFA in the agency’s history, she said, as many employees might lose their jobs.

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is one of the senior reporters of Palawan News. She covers agriculture, business, and different feature stories. Her interests are collecting empty bottles, aesthetic earrings, and anything that is color yellow.