On Wednesday the legislators called on the National Food Authority (NFA) to investigate reported price manipulation by rice traders in Mindanao, where the prices of the pile grain between P55 and P70 increased per kilo.
Zamboanga City Rep. Celso L. Lobregat and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Karlo Alexei B. Nograles of Davao City issued separate statements after receiving reports of "abnormally high" rice prices in Mindanao.
Lobregat also asked the national government to instruct the NFA to expedite the release and distribution of NFA rice to the affected areas in order to stabilize the rising prices of local commercial rice.
"We need to increase the distribution of NFA rice in the region," he said. "Agricultural secretary [Emmanuel F.] Piñol has visited Zamboanga [last Monday] to assess the situation, "added Lobregat.
Reports that the legislators reached indicated these rice prices in region 9: Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte, P55 to P60 per kilo; Pagadian, Zamboanga del Sur, P55 to P60 per kilo; Ipil, Zamboanga del Sur, P55 to P60 per kilo; and Zamboanga City, P60 to P68 per kilo.
They added rice prices are linked to P60 to P70 per kilo in Basilan.
NFA rice costs P27 per kilo and is the most affordable rice variety on the market. The NFA said that the current scarcity of rice in the country is due to the wave of bad weather, which has affected both rice production and the shipment of the food nests.
Data released by the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that the average sales price of one kilogram of regular ground rice in the country is P42.26, while the average selling price of well-ground rice is P45.71 per kilo.
Nograles said for his part: "Even taking into account less than optimal weather conditions, the discrepancy of prices on the Zamboanga peninsula is enormous – such prices put a lot of pressure on the limited budgets of families who only want three square meals a day. The NFA has to check if something illegal is going on. "
"About 120,000 sacks, or 6,000 tons of rice, were allocated by the NFA for Region 9. This will help stabilize the rising prices of local commercial rice because consumers would have more choices of rice to choose from," Nogales said.
"What's worse is that the information that is passed on to me is that unscrupulous traders hoard more rice, so prices continue to rise, they manipulate the market to their advantage, but this is making probinsyano suffering. The NFA has to find out whether this practice occurs only in Zamboanga City or on the entire Zamboanga peninsula, "he added.
The legislators have also asked the NFA and the Ministry of Agriculture to inform the Congress about their inspections in different rice warehouses in the region.