Reorganize NFA Council, include agriculture dept – Villarin
MANILA, Philippines – A National Food Authority (NFA) which lacks authority – this was the sentiment of some legislators during the second budget briefing of the agency on Monday, September 3.
Lawmakers pressed NFA Administrator Jason Aquino on why the agency failed to address the high prices of rice and the late arrival of imports. (READ: Who is NFA chief Jason Aquino and why is he controversial?)
Aquino responded in length, yet the main theme of his answers included "our hands are tied," and "that is a decision by the [NFA] Council."
This prompted lawmakers to ask, "Who is this all-powerful council?" They're now suggesting that the NFA Council be revamped.
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin suggested that the Department of Agriculture (DA) should be included and actually head the NFA Council.
He also proposed that some agencies like the Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) and Department of Finance (DOF) be booted out of the council.
"These are mainly the economic agencies and the concern of this council is to lessen the subsidy for rice and let full liberalization of imports happen," Villarin said on the sidelines of the briefing.
Villarin also said the economic analyses of the various agencies which are part of the council are clashing.
He said the NFA's primary mandate is "to subsidize consumers," while the other economic agencies are relying on imports to ignite market competition and lower prices.
"The logic [of these economic agencies] is you allow importations to lower the price, but that is not happening," the lawmaker said.
Inflation soared to a 9-year high of 5.7% last July despite the arrival of rice imports from Thailand and Vietnam. (READ: Imports to address inflation? Support farmers instead – Bam Aquino)
Villarin said subsidy-based agencies like the NFA and DA should head the NFA Council to increase the productivity of farmers, which in turn would lead to lower rice prices.
Who's in the NFA Council? The council is currently composed of 17 people. These are:
- NFA Administrator Jason Aquino
- Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr
- Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) Chairman Alberto Romulo
- Land Bank of the Philippines (Landbank) President and CEO Alex Buenaventura
- Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III
- Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary Ramon Lopez
- National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto Pernia
- Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea
- Farmer Sector Representative Edwin Paraluman
- Irwin Peña as acting corporate secretary
Alternate members and principal representatives:
- BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo
- DBP Director Rolando Metin
- Landbank Executive Vice President Julio Climaco
- National Treasurer Rosalia de Leon
- DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo
- NEDA Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla
- Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Executive Secretary Aurora Ignacio
The DA is not part of the council, but is responsible for supporting farmers, such as by providing loans and high-quality grains. The DA also aims to lower the production cost of farmers by improving how they farm, which in turn, lowers the cost of rice in markets.
The NFA Council decides how the NFA should act, including when to import and the mode of importation.
The council drew flak for allegedly acting late, which led to the depleted buffer stocks of the NFA and the elevated prices of rice. (READ: Taming rice prices: What lawmakers, experts say)
The conflict between the NFA and the council was exposed to the public eye through what President Rodrigo Duterte called a "turf war" between Aquino and then-NFA Council Chairman Leoncio Evasco Jr. (READ: TIMELINE: Clashes between Evasco and NFA's Aquino)
Evasco was booted out of the council by Duterte.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was previously quoted as saying that they "do not understand the word 'urgency.'"
Aquino said Villarin's proposal to change the council's composition is in the hands of legislators.
Several senators and experts have called for the abolition of the NFA. But for Villarin, the agency should just be reformed. – Rappler.com