By Reuters and Madelaine Miraflor
Agricultural secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Monday that he proposed importing another 132,000 tonnes (T) of rice from the private sector to tackle "very limited" stocks of the staple food in the country's southern provinces.
Piñol said he had formally recommended "special" imports to President Duterte, and the National Food Authority (NFA) Council would meet Tuesday to discuss the request.
The head of the Ministry of Agriculture (DA) also said that there was nothing wrong with the upcoming import of 17,000 metric tons (MT) of galunggong, which will be sold directly to the local markets – the first time this happens because imported galunggong normally intended for processing and only preserving purposes.
The additional demand for rice could support export prices in Vietnam and Thailand, traditionally the most important suppliers, who have already shipped more than 1 million tons this year.
In Vietnam, export prices for rice remained flat this month after a sharp fall in June and July, although traders have reported rumors of possible new deals with the Philippines.
Piñol said that the inhabitants of the provinces of Tawi-Tawi, Sulu and Basilan and the city of Zamboanga in Mindanohave have been searching for rice stocks in recent weeks after a tough approach to smuggling.
The southern region has been relying for years on smuggled rice that supposedly comes from Vietnam and Thailand, shipped via the Malaysian state of Sabah, forcing local farmers to grow rice, he said.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Duterte met last month and agreed to stop smuggling activities in the country, he said.
The movement slowed smuggling but it had caused a crisis, Piñol said in a statement on his Facebook page.
More smuggled rice
On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that two ships loaded with 22,000 bags of smuggled rice during Basil Patrol were intercepted during the patrol at sea.
Men from the Coast Guard District South Western Mindanao aboard Multi-Role Response Vessel 4408 (BRP Cape San Agustin) conducted a maritime patrol at Tamuk Island in Basilan when they saw ML "Overseas" at 2:00 PM.
During inspection, 10,000 bags of rice were discovered inside the vessel without relevant documents. The bags of rice were then confiscated by the Coast Guard.
Twenty minutes later it was found that another ship that had been marked as M / L "Nadeepa" had carried 12,000 undocumented rice peels. The ship was intercepted west of Maluso, Basilan.
Both ships were arrested and escorted to the port of Zamboanga. The ships, including the bags of rice, will be handed over to the local office of the customs officials for a proper arrangement.
Last week, Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan declared a state of disaster, citing the high prices of rice, he said.
Piñol described the situation in Tawi-Tawi as "uncertain" when residents stood in rows on rice for prices up to 100 pesos ($ 1.88) per kilogram, almost three times as much as the price of government-subsidized rice.
"The rice crisis was recently declared to have ended in the city of Zamboanga with the arrival of new rice stocks from farmers' cooperatives … and the NFA, (but) Basilan, Sulu and Tawitawi are still gripped by a very limited supply of rice." Piñol said.
Meanwhile, the government has recently allowed imports of fresh, chilled and frozen galunggong (round scad) to increase local supply on the fresh markets and to stabilize prices.
And to keep the country's fish supply, Piñol said that imports will now be a common practice in the fishing industry.
"It's part of the fish conservation program, we really need to set up and import a system, but we also have to develop our aquaculture and mariculture program," Piñol said.
Pending galunggong imports will take effect on 1 September, just in time for the closed fishing season in various municipal waters. The closed season in the main fishing grounds of the country extends from October to February.
Piñol said that in the same period next year the country could re-import as & # 39; part of a long-term program & # 39; that the administration will perform and amid the falling fish stock.
According to him, this program means that the country's fish supply needs to be redesigned – that's just 40 percent of fish caught and 60 percent of aquaculture and mariculture.
& # 39; Plaster solution & # 39;
The ruling of Piñol came at a time when a legislator said that Da's decision to bring in about P1.4 billion of imports of galunggong only provided a plaster solution & # 39; is.
"It is a plaster solution that does not really address the problem of declining fish production, it is a miserable intervention on the supply side," Buhay Rep. LitoAtienza, the senior deputy minority leader.
The 17,000 tonnes of imported galung gong is expected to have a quoted price of P75 to P80 per kilo and would be sold directly on the local wet markets.
"What difference does 17 million kilos make – that's exactly the same as 17 million households that each consume one kilogram a day." Ubosna & # 39; yansaloobngisangarawlang, & # 39 ;, Atienza said.
"The best way for the government to combat rising fish or food prices is to produce more fish and more food," he added.
But for the record, Piñol said that there really is no shortage of galunggong in the country. The problem is that the fishermen could not catch them.
"We are coming up with a new design for fishing boats that helps fishermen increase their catch and reach areas where they catch more fish," Piñol said.
In the meantime, the government can also allow larger commercial fishing boats to enter certain fishing zones to allow them to catch what small fishermen could not.
The annual ban on fishing was imposed by BFAR by means of an administrative order for fishing mainly to implement the program for managing the fishery resources of the agency.
BFAR for its part assures that the import and unloading activities comply with a series of strict guidelines and will be strictly controlled by the BFAR and the Philippine Authority for the Development of Fisheries (PFDA).
More importantly, the general consuming public is assured that the imported galunggong will only be unloaded at BFAR's recognized cold storage facilities and thoroughly inspected to ensure that fish products entering the Philippine markets will be safe and free from harmful substances. to be. (With a report from Betheena Unite)