A RESOLUTION is expected to be filed at the House of Representatives this week to add P10 billion to the 2019 budget of the National Food Authority (NFA) to boost its ability to procure rice from domestic farmers.
According to Anakpawis Partylist Representative Ariel B. Casilao in an interview Friday, the new proposed budget amounts to procurement volume of 700,000 metric tons of rice in unmilled form, known as palay. The NFA has sought a budget of P7 billion, according to Mr. Casilao.
“Congress can overrule any position of the NFA Council. If the council does not act on the proposal of farmer representatives to increase the buying price from P17 to P22, then within the legislative function of the Congress (we can) enact a resolution that NFA, being an executive branch, must follow,” Mr. Casilao said.
“A resolution approved by Congress is a law. The leadership should appreciate it as an urgent measure, because we are deliberating the budget for 2019, yet the budget for procurement for NFA for 2018 is already depleted. Less than a billion is left. Here comes harvest season, there are no funds to buy from the farmers and we need to rely on imports. That is the problem which we will face again and again if nothing is done to raise procurement,” he added.
According to Mr. Casilao, he, and some non-government organizations and the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), will file technical malversation charges against NFA before the Office of the Ombudsman after the NFA used its funds to service instead of procuring palay.
The NFA’s buying price provides a floor price for farmers in the event that not all of them can sell at a higher price to commercial rice dealers. It is also required to sell low-cost rice to the poor, providing relief from the high prices charged by commercial dealers. Low NFA inventories represent an opportunity for commercial dealers to sell more.
“You cannot realign what is approved by Congress in a specific line item budget. That’s our argument and we want the Ombudsman to issue a clear opinion on that,” Mr. Casilao said.
SINAG filed an earlier complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman against the NFA for misuse of P5.1-billion funds in 2017.
“The SINAG complaint covers 2017. What we will file is for 2018 appropriations,” Mr. Casilao said.
“What we are experiencing now is imports of 500,000 MT. Had that volume been procured from domestic producers it would have been a big help. We can set an NFA price that is competitive to the commercial price,” according to Mr. Casilao.
Asked where the NFA could have sourced the funds to service its debt, Mr. Casilao replied, “The NFA could have presented in their national expenditure program a separate proposed item, not (taking from) the allocation or the item identified for procurement, because procurement and debt payment are two separate budget principles. The line budgeting principle should be definite and specific, once you appropriate funds for this purpose. It should be used for that purpose only and not for other reconfiguration of payment.”
Nueva Ecija 2nd District Representative Micaela S. Violago has said that commercial rice prices rose because it faced “no competition” from NFA rice. “Had the NFA done its job, prices would not have risen this much,” she said.
“The solution isn’t always to import, which does not help farmers,” she added. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio