Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros on Thursday pointed to the Duterte government's "policy paralysis" which led to the National Food Authority's (NFA) supposed lack of rice supply.
During today's continuation of the Senate's hearing on the issue, Hontiveros said that different government agencies failed to arrive at a consensus over a unified policy to address the rice problem.
"There is obviously policy paralysis on the part of the government. The agencies involved in working on this issue are in complete disarray. In the last hearing, the NFA Chief, NFA Council, Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) all gave conflicting policy statements and reports. The NFA Chief said that there was a rice shortage. The NFA Council and DA refuted this. Meanwhile, the NEDA Chief blamed how rice stocks were handled on the NFA," Hontiveros said.
"It is thus not surprising if hoarders and profiteers were able to exploit this chaotic situation, undermine the country's food security and the stability of supply and the price of rice," Hontiveros added.
Hontiveros said that based on the reports made by different stakeholders, the alleged lack of NFA rice supply can be attributed to the government's failure to buy domestically-produced rice and import additional supply.
"In both aspects, the government was paralyzed into inaction. Aside from the lack of a consolidated policy framework to address the issue, it was also hampered by internal bickering over competing interests," Hontiveros said.
"Rising rice prices causes stunting in children"
Hontiveros, who is the Vice-chairperson of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography, also underscored the impact of rising rice prices and incidence of stunting among children.
"As the country seemed to be on the verge of attaining rice self-sufficiency the incidence of stunting among children of poor families also grew. This cannot be ignored -- studies have shown that a one percent increase in the domestic price of rice leads to a .6 percent increase in the incidence of stunting in the country. A ten percent increase in the price of rice will lead to a six percent increase in the number of stunted children. If the past is our guide -- I fear that the high and rising domestic rice prices today are also causing rising rates of stunting among our children," Hontiveros said.
Hontiveros pushed for a five-point response to address the rice crisis. The following are:
1. Mandatory buying of palay at P 19.00 per kilo to help smale-scale farmers and augment the country's emergency rice reserves.
2. Calibrated importation of rice that balances the objectives of lowering rice prices while providing protection to and ensuring the competitiveness of Filipino farmers.
3. Creation of an anti-hoarding, anti-profiteering taskforce led by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Philippine Competition.
4. Summon the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) and National Nutrition Council (NNC) to provide updates on the consequence of high rice prices on health indicators of children in poor families.
5. Design and make financial provisions for the safety net of farmers and public investment support for the rice sector ahead of the removal of limits on the volume of rice that may be imported once the country is compelled to abide by the World Trade Organization's (WTO) agreements. #
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