SENATOR Cynthia A. Villar on Tuesday urged the National Food Authority (NFA) Council to allow raising the buying price of palay from P17 to P18 in order to address the low inventories held by the grains agency.

“We’re recommending that they increase the buying price to P18,” she told reporters after the Senate hearing on NFA’s rice inventories.

Ms. Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, also called on the President to draft an executive order which would donate smuggled rice seized at the country’s ports to the NFA.

“I am appealing to the President to issue an executive order to donate to NFA the smuggled rice… Let’s donate it so the NFA will have no longer have problems,” she said.

At the hearing, Assistant Secretary Mercedita A. Sombilla, National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) representative to the NFA council, said she would raise the proposal to the council.

“We’ll take it up at the council the suggestion to increase the buying price by P1,” she said.

The NFA is currently buying palay, or unmilled rice, from farmers at the government support price of P17 per kilogram. It has set the selling price for regular-milled rice at P27 per kilogram and for well-milled rice at P32 per kilogram.

NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Y. Aquino told senators that the agency has asked the council to increase the buying price to P22. He said the council did not approve the request.

“We cannot buy clean and dry palay at P17 because the farm-gate prices are at P19, P20 and P21. The farmer will sell that to traders, not to NFA,” he said.

He added that the NFA only has 1.7 days worth of rice held as buffer stock as of Tuesday as the agency awaits the arrival of imported rice in June.

Ms. Sombilla, however, cited figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) indicating that the farm-gate prices of rice between October to November 2017 were within the NFA’s price range at between P14 to P17.

“That’s why we were really pushing NFA to buy during those times,” she said.

Mr. Aquino, however, dismissed the PSA findings, saying that the quoted prices were not available from farmers.

“The information is not right… We were looking for the sources from the reports we received from different individuals. We really could not find it,” he said.

Asked by Senator Maria Lourdes S. Binay on whether the P17 support price for NFA rice is reasonable, Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said: “It’s not practical anymore.”

He said the buying price could be raised to P20 in areas where market prices are high.

Ms. Villar, however, advised against increasing the buying price to more than P18.

“We have to give cheap rice to consumers but if we increase the buying price then we cannot give the same price to consumers. It has to increase. We’re asking them to increase it a little so they will be able to buy,” she said.

With the P1 increase, she calculated the NFA rice prices to range from P30 to P34.

Meanwhile, Senator Paolo Benigno A. Aquino IV called for the resignation of the NFA’s Mr. Aquino over his failure to fulfill his mandate to ensure food security for Filipinos.

“We are talking about food security for the poorest Filipino families. We need someone who can get the job done,” he said in a statement.

“Because of the failure of the NFA, the prices of rice increased. They have allowed the buffer stock to deplete and it has resulted to increased prices in the market,” he added in Filipino. — Camille A. Aguinaldo