ZAMBOANGA CITY: While the government is slowly addressing the shortage of rice in Zamboanga City, people in Sulu Province are also queuing up to buy five kilos of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).
NFA rice sells a kilo in Sulu at P27, where a shortage of basic products is also felt.
Also the neighboring province of Tawi-Tawi, which is located near Sabah in Malaysia, is also the result of a lack of rice supply and residents are lining up to buy government subsidized rice that is sold at NFA stores .
With the rice crisis in these areas, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has proposed a special import of 132,000 tons of rice by the private sector for the Zamboanga peninsula – consisting of Zamboanga City and the provinces of Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte – and Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, also known as ZamBaSulTa.
Piñol is also considering the establishment of a Rice Trading Center, where all goods from other nearby countries, such as Malaysia, are unloaded, taxed with minimum tariffs and only distributed in those areas.
"My proposal is that the amount of rice that can enter the rice trading center should not exceed half of the total needs of the region, so that rice farmers on the mainland are not affected," Piñol said.
He said that the local authorities in ZamBaSulTa should be obliged to set up a rice production project with a first 1,000 hectares as a test area. The provincial government of Tawi-Tawi has committed 10,000 hectares while the three others have each recorded 1,000 hectares.
"Local officials have approved my proposals, but apart from the rice production project that I would be able to carry out at my level, everyone else must refer to other agencies for their approval, but there is not much time, because Tawi-Tawi's rice supply is only 15 days well, while Sulu only has about 10 days, "he said, and the only other option the local officials still have is to allow the resumption of rice. smuggling operations in the area.
"But that has also become problematic because with President Duterte's intensified campaign against smuggling, the & # 39; tara & # 39; [grease money]of corrupt government officials in the area and other agencies has also increased to P500 per 25 pound bag, "Piñol said.
He pointed out that with a tara of P500 per bag, the costs of the smuggled rice would rise to about P44 per kilo, which is slightly lower than the rice produced by the farmers of Mindanao. "This is a precarious situation that can only be tackled if we get our actions together in the government and act quickly," he said.
Tawi-Tawi, according to Piñol, which for a long time was the drop-off space for rice smuggled from Malaysia, never had any problem with its basic stock that was sold for as low as P34 per kilo. But when the smuggling route was closed a month ago after the president's visit, the residents suddenly found themselves in line for rice sold up to P100 per kilo after Eid & # 39; l Fitr.
"The end of the smuggling, which took place after the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to Malaysia last month, where he had a private meeting with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad, could be lauded as a success in the Government's campaign against illegal activities, but it resulted in a crisis in Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Basilan and Zamboanga City, & # 39; said Piñol.
The agricultural secretary was recently in Tawi-Tawi with assistant secretary Andrew Villacorta, who provides the national rice program, and Sailila Abdulla, executive director of PhilRice, to assess the rice situation in the province.
"The situation is precarious Even with the arrival of the first 10,000 bags of NFA rice and the expected extra load of another 20,000 bags, Tawi-Tawi officials do not know where to get additional rice supplies," he said.
Piñol said he had asked NFA administrator Jason Aquino for the allocation of 30,000 bags for Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Basilan, while 100,000 bags of NFA rice were reserved for Zamboanga City.
Sulu has almost zero rice production, of which Piñol believed, is caused by his dependence on smuggled rice.
"When I visited the NFA office and warehouse in the city of Patikul, I saw about 5,000 bags of newly unloaded NFA rice stocks.The NFA manager said it took them three days to unload the 5000 bags and another three days to unload the remaining bags from a barrel supplied by Gov.Toto Tan, "he said.
Piñol also directed Deputy Minister Eduardo Gongona, of the Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Agency, to coordinate with officials of the Philippine Navy for the use of a naval vessel to bring the extra 20,000 bags from Zamboanga City to Sulu.
His office will also consolidate the commercial rice resources available in Mindanao to be shipped to the province to boost the NFA stock.