Lawmakers eye rice imports amid 5.2% inflation

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rice sacks
AFP

By Charmaine A. Tadalan

Kung mayroong intervention ang gagawin, isa sa pinakamahalaga ay ang pagpasok ng murang bigas. (If there should be an intervention, it should be importing cheap rice),” Senate Economic Affairs Committee Chair Sen. Sherwin T. Gatchalian said in a radio interview Friday.

Importante ang bigas, isa sa dahilan kung bakit tumaas ang presyo ay ang kawalan ng (Rice is important. One of the reasons behind increased prices is the shortage of) NFA (National Food Authority) rice,” the senator said.

For his part, Representative Arthur C. Yap, who chairs the House Economic Affairs Committee, called for the quick passage of the Rice Tarrification Act.

“With the inflation rate breaching higher end targets, Congress must now pass the Rice Tarrification Act,” Mr. Yap said in his statement Thursday. “Our people need the breathing spell to contend with the high prices of rice brought about by the lack of NFA buffer stocks and the weak peso.”

Further, Mr. Yap called on the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to increase interest rates to stabilize the situation as well as for the government to increase cash transfers to vulnerable sectors.

“If releases will be conditional, then they must be conditioned on skills training for beneficiaries in the manufacturing and construction sectors which are fundamentally expanding,” Mr. Yap said.

He added: “The Build, Build, Build program must continue focused and unabated to balance possible impacts to growth should the private sector delay their investments due to the BSP rate hikes.”

As for the excise tax, Senator Gatchalian said suspending it will be the government’s last resort. “Ito ay minominitor naming mabuti at kung (We are strictly monitoring this and if) worse comes to worst at magkakaroon ng (and there will be) runaway inflation, we will have to strongly recommend (suspending) excise tax on fuel,” Mr. Gatchalian said.

Meanwhile, the NFA in a statement Friday said it has reactivated its retail outlets at the Barangay Food Terminals (BFTs) with the arrival of rice from Vietnam and Thailand.

“As of today, there are 76 NFA rice outlets in BFTs nationwide actively operating serving at least 500 families. These outlets get…from five to 35 bags per week and sell three to ten kilograms of rice per customer,” the NFA said.

“At present, BFTs are operational in Benguet, Kalinga, Masbate, Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte, Albay, Cavite, Davao del Sur, Davao Occidental, General Santos, North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Caraga, and some parts of Metro Manila,” the agency said further.