President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday chose Philippine Army Commanding General Lt. Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista to head the National Food Authority, after his appointee Jason Aquino asked to be relieved.
The President, who presided over a briefing with several Cabinet secretaries and government officials in the Cagayan Provincial Capitol over the effects of Typhoon “Ompong,” said he wanted to appoint Bautista when he retires on Oct. 15.
“There’s the problem because there’s a dearth of a substantial knowledge of where the rice is. That’s why I need somebody who I can trust and who will fix the problem,” Duterte said, referring to a shortage of rice that has driven prices up.
Asked about Duterte’s choice, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque said it was clear that the President wanted someone obedient.
“What he said was clear. He wants to appoint someone from the military because he wants them to follow his orders,” Roque said.
“The President believes he needs an absolutely honest person who will follow his orders in NFA because it’s important to provide ample supply of rice ,” Roque said.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said Sunday the government will require all grain retailers to sell cheaper regular and well-milled commercial rice or face cancellation of their licenses.
Lopez said the DTI, together with the NFA, will make it a requirement for retailers to sell not only premium rice brands, but also basic, regular, and well-milled rice.
Lopez also said 4.6-million sacks of NFA rice, usually priced at P27 to P32 per kilo, will be made available nationwide and will be sold in supermarkets.
Senator Loren Legarda said that she was assured by the administration’s economic team that prices of goods and services will soon stabilize following measures being undertaken by the government.
Legarda, chairman of the Senate committee on finance, was briefed by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, Socio-economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Deputy Governor Francisco Dakila, Jr. on the causes of the spike in inflation rate and the measures the government is taking to stabilize inflation expectations.
Figures from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that inflation rose to a nine-year high of 6.4 percent in August.
“We tried to analyze the causes of food and transport inflation and even the depreciation of peso. We also factored in the effects of monsoon rains and drought, as well as issues in the world market and prices of oil,” Legarda said.
She said there are interventions being made in terms of policy and executive action.
These include the immediate release of 4.6-million sacks of rice available in NFA warehouses to markets across the country. The economic managers also urged the Senate to immediately pass the Rice Tariffication Bill within the month.
The DTI, NFA, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, and farmer groups will form a monitoring team for surveillance of rice from ports to NFA warehouses and retail outlets.
To reduce the gap between the farm gate and retail prices of chicken, the Department of Agriculture and DTI will convene poultry producers and setup public markets where producers can sell directly to the end customer.
To address the shortage, the NFA Council has approved the importation of two-million sacks of rice for delivery by the end of September, and authorized the importation of five-million sacks more that are expected to arrive in one-and-a-half months, and another five-million sacks for early next year.
But the Senator stressed that the government must address rice wastage to lessen the need to import rice, noting that 800,000 metric tons of milled rice is wasted due to improper handling, transport and storage.
“There should be a designated authority or task force to address this wastage. If we can reduce even half of rice wastage, it would mean less importation as well,” Legarda said.