President Rodrigo Duterte has allowed the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice in the face of reports that the buffer stock of the National Food Authority is fast depleting, an official said Thursday.
Secretary to the Cabinet and NFA Council Chairman Leoncio Evasco said he was instructed by Duterte to activate the standby order to import 250,000 metric tons of rice Wednesday night.
“Last night (February 7), I received an oral order, an instruction from the president to buy the standby rice. We will buy 250,000 metric tons,” Evasco told ABS-CBN News Thursday.
Evasco said the rice to be imported is on top of the 325,000 metric tons of the staple to be imported under the minimum access volume (MAV).
“We have no option but to follow the president to activate the 250,000 metric tons on standby. That will be on top of the 325,000 (metric tons) that will arrive anytime this month,” he said.
Evasco explained that the NFA clearance approves the request of the agency's management to buy rice from abroad. He said the approval would be given if the National Food Security Council certifies that there is a need to increase the rice supply in the country.
“We are so careful in buying so as not to affect the production of local farmers,” Evasco said.
In a meeting with former communist rebels in Malacañang last Wednesday, Duterte said Filipinos would go hungry if the government does not import rice.
“If we won't import from Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, we will be hungry. That's the problem there,” Duterte said.
Evasco reiterated that the Philippines is not facing a rice supply problem.
In an interview with reporters last Wednesday, Evasco said the NFA Council is cautious about rice imports, saying some groups might be creating a “drama” to prod the government to import the staple.
“I have to check and call for a meeting of the council to find out what is true or is this just a drama to pressure the council to purchase rice. This is very sensitive, it is about a purchase,” Evasco said.
“We have a task to protect government from unscrupulous purchases of rice,” he added.
Evasco said the NFA management called for the activation of the import order to buy 250,000 metric tons of rice. The council did not act on the request because of the expected arrival of the 325,000 metric tons acquired under the MAV.
The NFA imports rice during lean months and not during harvest season to avoid affecting the production of Filipino farmers.