The rice shortage hit not only Batanes, but also Tawi-Tawi – the northernmost and southernmost provinces, respectively – and forced the government to divert the supply destined for other areas to those who were hit the hardest, reported reaching the Researcher.
Rice stocks allocated to other regions have been sent to the Zamboanga peninsula to alleviate the severe shortage in Zamboanga City after the price of the staple went up to P70 per kilo. The shortage led to the city government announcing a state of disaster.
Rep. Karlo Nograles, chairman of the household credit committee, said he felt that the National Food Authority (NFA) had sent extra bags of rice to Zamboanga from the supplies for North Mindanao.
Nograles said that the diversion of shares was "very worrying".
Cagayan de Oro retailers
The Davao City legislator said he learned from rice traders in Cagayan de Oro City that they received only 25 bags of NFA rice a week, less than the previous 100 bags.
"Because of this, people are fighting over the supply of NFA rice," he said.
Nograles said that "the lack of cheaper alternatives in the form of NFA rice has enabled commercial rice suppliers to dictate prices in the market." (See related story on page B6.)
He said he visited Cagayan de Oro in response to the challenge of NFA manager Jason Aquino for legislators to come to the markets in the country to find the real reason behind the rise in rice prices.
The escalation of prices across the country is largely due to the exhaustion of stocks from the NFA, whose task is to guarantee stable supply and prices for rice.
In Batanes the supply of cheap rice from the NFA is decreasing rapidly. Provincial officials ask the Bureau of Civil Defense (OCD) and the army to fly in emergency stocks.
No NFA rice in Itbayat
Itbayat city has run out of NFA rice, according to Mayor Raul de Sagon. He said the last 60 bags were distributed to poor families last week.
The NFA warehouse in Basco, the capital, had 280 bags from August 24, but huge sea waves had prevented the agency from bringing sixty bags to Itbayat, said Philip Cesar Rumbaoa, the officer in charge of the NFA office in Batanes.
Rumbaoa said that the monsoon rains that battered Northern Luzon since last week have also delayed a transport of 3,000 bags of rice to Batanes.
The province relies on NFA allocations because commercial rice sells from P65 to P72 per kilo. Most residents prefer NFA rice, which puts a kilogram on the market for P32.
On Monday, a small vessel tried to defy the waves, but failed to deliver eight bags of rice to Itbayat. The city has a runway on which a military aircraft can land, said government leader Marilou Cayco, who contacted the OCD and the Philippine Air Force to transport 500 bags of rice.
Agricultural secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Saturday that the rice crisis in Zamboanga City was over.
Piñol said he had recommended President Duterte to supply 203,000 bags of rice to Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi to prevent the rice shortage from returning.
He said that most warehouses in Zamboanga City were filled with shares from the neighboring provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and parts of Cotabato.
Rice from Zamboanga Sibugay and North Cotabato are beginning to flood the city markets.
Prices are still rising
However, prices are still higher. These varied from P58 to P60 per kilo.
Piñol is optimistic and prices will fall. "The stocks will soon stabilize," he said.
He blamed the price increases for traders who previously bought rice at a higher price.
Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi not only received 10,000 bags from the NFA, Piñol said. "Another 20,000 bags have been spent on them to fill the shortage in anticipation of expansion [other] provinces."
The secretary attributed the rice crisis that hit Zamboanga for the disruption of the smuggling of rice from Malaysia.
Calls for the abolition of NFA
The shortage of rice and high prices have prompted legislators to abolish the NFA.
"Ask farmers, consumers and stakeholders, we do not," said NFA spokesman Rex Estoperez on Monday about the calls to dismantle the office.
Anac-IP Rep. Jose Panganiban Jr., chairman of the Agriculture and Food Committee of the House, said the abolition of the NFA would not benefit the country.
Nograles challenged NFA officials to address the shortage of rice or to give up their posts quickly.
The NFA has imported rice to support its supplies, but at least two shiploads are contaminated with beetles ("bukbok").
Panganiban precipitated NFA officials for claiming that the contaminated rice was safe for human consumption even after fumigation.
"It's not acceptable, that's irresponsible," he said at a press conference. –WITH A REPORT FROM KARL R. OCAMPO
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to access The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download from 4 hours and share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.