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Saturday, April 22, 2017

Palace questions de Lima’s inclusion in ‘Time 100’

MALACAÑANG on Friday welcomed the inclusion of President Rodrigo Duterte on Time magazine’s list of “The 100 Most Influential People” but questioned why Sen. Leila de Lima got into the roster.
The list released on Thursday placed Duterte under the “Leaders” category, while de Lima was listed among “Icons.”
“The fact remains that President Duterte is supported by majority of the Filipinos in his campaign against illegal hard drugs, crime and corruption,” presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said in a statement.
Abella however blasted how the piece on de Lima, written by former United States ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, ignored the circumstances that led to her detention on drug trafficking charges.
“In the case of Senator de Lima, Time conveniently failed to clarify that she was jailed not for her criticisms against the administration but because an independent court found probable cause in support of the criminal charges against her for alleged violation of the law on illegal drugs,” Abella said.
De Lima denies the charges, which she says were trumped up to silence her. The senator is being accused of getting money from illegal drug traders at the New Bilibid Prison when she was Justice secretary under the previous Aquino administration.
In her piece, Power noted that few had taken up de Lima’s cause.
“It is a disturbing testament to the current solidarity among strongmen and the global surge in impunity that de Lima’s cause has not been more embraced,” she said.
“And yet, even from prison, she continues to speak out against her President: ‘It’s not O.K. with me that we have a murderous psychopath occupying the highest post in the land,’” she added, quoting one of de Lima’s daily dispatches of handwritten notes from her cell.
Cesar Gaviria, the former president of Colombia who battled drug cartels, wrote the article on Duterte. Gaviria compared his drug war, which killed notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, with Duterte’s bloody anti-narcotics campaign.
Earlier this year, Gaviria wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times warning against a violent approach to end the drug problem. Duterte responded by calling him an idiot.
Gaviria reiterated his points in the Time article.
“When I was President of Colombia, I was also seduced into taking a tough stance on drugs. But after spending billions, I discovered that the war was unwinnable and the human costs were devastating. The cure was infinitely worse than the disease,” Gaviria said.
He advised Duterte to treat the drug problem as a public health issue instead.
“There are solutions that work. Duterte could start by treating drugs as a health, human rights and development issue. He could prosecute the most violent criminals and provide treatment for users rather than condemn them to prison, or worse,” Gaviria said.
“There will always be drugs in the Philippines, whether the President likes it or not. The tragedy is that many more people are likely going to die as he learns this lesson,” he added.

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Robredo wants LP to stay with House majority coalition

VICE PRESIDENT Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo won’t call on 27 Liberal Party (LP) lawmakers in the House of Representatives to leave the pro-Duterte Super Majority coalition.
Robredo made the statement a day after LP lawmakers met with Robredo, the interim LP chairman in her capacity as the highest elected LP official.
At least 27 LP members in the House have remained with the Super Majority coalition led by President Rodrigo Duterte’s PDP-Laban party, even if LP members in the Senate have shifted to the minority.
LP senators were kicked out of the Senate majority in February after Sen. Emmanuel Pacquiao motioned for their ouster from their respective committee chairmanships for supposedly undermining the Duterte aadministration.
“On whether to stay or leave [the administration coalition]is their decision to make. But in our previous talks, there are those who are supportive of the administration and there are those who are otherwise and have joined the minority. That stance has remained,” Robredo told reporters.
15 LPs reject ‘impeach’ efforts
Robredo also said she was assured by at least 15 LP lawmakers that they would have her back amid efforts by Duterte allies to have her impeached.
Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez of Davao del Norte had threatened to file an impeachment complaint against Robredo over her scathing criticism of the Duterte administration’s anti-drug war that has left thousands dead in the last nine months.
An impeachment complaint has already been filed against President Rodrigo Duterte by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano over the rampant killings and the President’s alleged failure to assert the country’s sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea. Alejano also accused Duterte of hiding P2 billion in secret bank accounts.
“Majority of those who were there were saying that they were not supportive of impeachment proceedings, whether it is against the President or myself. They feel that it will just hamper the work in Congress and that it will be very divisive. That’s the prevailing sentiment,” Robredo said.
“They also said that they agreed…it is apparent that they will protect me. But that it wasn’t a formal pact because only around 15 were able to attend because others are still on vacation. We will meet again when more members are available,” Robredo added.
The vice president clarified that the 15 did not include the five LP lawmakers who belong to the minority bloc in the House of Representatives led by Rep. Edcel Lagman of Albay. Aside from Lagman, the bloc includes Edgar Erice of Caloocan City, Emmanuel Billones of Capiz, Teodoro Baguilat of Ifugao and Raul Daza of Northern Samar, all Robredo supporters.
“The members of the House minority were not there, and I think there will be a separate meeting for them,” Robredo said.
‘Divisive, polarizing’
In a separate statement, Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo of Marikina, an LP official, echoed the vice president’s sentiments.
“I confirm that around 15 LP members belonging to the majority caucus in the House of Representatives met with the vice president on April 20. A number of administrative-party matters were discussed, and we eventually discussed the issue of impeachment. We reiterated our strongest commitment of support to the vice president, our party leader,” Quimbo said.
“We strongly believe that the taking up by the House of any impeachment complaint today will only be divisive as well as polarizing. It (impeachment) will only serve to distract us from the many important matters that Congress should be giving priority to,” Quimbo added.

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Trump set to visit Manila in November

THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday confirmed that President Donald Trump would visit Manila in November.
DFA spokesman Robe Bolivar said Trump was scheduled to participate in the East Asia Summit and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean)-US Leaders’ Summit to be hosted by the Philippines.
The announcement came after US Vice President Mike Pence visited the Jakarta headquarters of Asean and met representatives of the 10-member bloc.
Pence said that aside from the Asean meetings, the US president will go to the gathering of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vietnam.
Trump’s attendance at the meetings was “a sign, I hope to all, of our firm and unwavering commitment to build on the strong foundations that we already share,” Pence said in Jakarta on Thursday.
The East Asia Summit groups 18 countries including Asean member-states, the US, Russia and China. APEC brings together 21 member-states from either side of the Pacific.
Asean states are eager to hear what the US will say on the proposed framework on the Code of Conduct on South China Sea, which is expected to be crafted in the middle of this year or before the November meet.
Duterte has chastised Washington for supposedly doing nothing to prevent China from reclaiming some islands in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and setting up communications facilities.
The code of conduct is expected to stop China from developing the islands in the West Philippine Sea being claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
‘Power struggle’
A visiting former Chinese ambassador said the Philippines was a victim of the power struggle between the US and China as to who controls the South China Sea.
Ambassador Wu Hailong, in a roundtable discussion earlier this week with members of the Philippine Council for
Foreign Relations (PCFR) at the Development Academy of the Philippines in Pasig City, said Washington and Beijing have different interpretations of freedom of navigation.
“If we are friends, how can we be enemies? That’s foreign relations, no permanent friends, only permanent interest. We should be flexible, open-minded, ready to talk because the only alternative is war and we cannot contemplate war,” PCFR head Alan Ortiz said, quoting Wu.
“For the US, they can pass anytime they want, and that’s freedom of navigation for them. For us, we pass South China Sea for trade and commerce,” added Ortiz, still quoting Wu.
Ortiz said the installation of communication equipment on reclaimed islands in the West Philippine Sea was China’s response to the interpretation of the Americans.
“They feel threatened, that’s why they feel they have to be ready,” he said.
Wu said Filipino leaders were well-respected in China, citing the successful visit of President Rodrigo Duterte last year, which revived the Sino-Filipino relationship amid the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.
In fact, Wu said China was preparing for the 600th year commemoration of the first visit of a Filipino leader to China.
He was referring to Sulu King Paduka Pahala, who visited China in 1417. Pahala, however, got sick and died in China. The Chinese emperor ordered an elaborate funeral and built a mausoleum, which still stands today.
“We are commemorating the 600 years of exchanges of views and issues. It was a splendid visit of a royal king,” said Wu, who visited Manila for the first time.
“As family members we have to be very frank and take into consideration our long history of relationship and cooperation,” the former Chinese diplomat said.

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P1.6-B construction at Pag-asa island to start

CONSTRUCTION at Pag-asa (Thitu) Island will start next month, according to Defense Secretary Lorenzana who flew to the Philippine-administered island and was “challenged” at least four times by the Chinese over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Citing China’s extensive construction at Zamora (Subi) Reef, Lorenzana said the improvement in Pag-asa was long overdue.
“We should have done this before but we had a moratorium because we filed a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA),” Lorenzana told reporters in a news briefing following his visit to the island.
The arbitration court’s ruling in July 2016 was an international legal victory for Manila as it invalidated Beijing’s “nine-dash-line” claim to almost the entire South China Sea, including the portion of the Spratly (Kalayaan) archipelago within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Challenge’ normal
Lorenzana was accompanied by top military officials led by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Chief of Staff Gen. Eduardo Año; Western Command chief Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario and Lt. Gen. Glorioso Miranda, Philippine Army commander.
The officials raised the Philippine flag.
“This is just a normal visit within our territory and we are just visiting our territory to look at the conditions of our people here,” Lorenzana emphasized.
On their way to Kalayaan, their airplane, a C-130 military cargo plane, was challenged at least four times by the Chinese, Philippine officials said.
The Chinese warned that they were entering the periphery of a Chinese installation and told them to keep away to avoid miscalculation. But Lorenzana’s party replied: “We are flying over Philippine territory.”
“That’s automatic (the challenge). That’s their protocol. It’s procedural (for China). We also reply that we are flying over Philippine territory. That was it. That challenge was just an exchange of words. No untoward incident happened,” said the Defense chief.
One of the challenges came from a base in Zamora, and the others from the periphery of Subi, as the aircraft made its pattern for landing.
Lorenzana described such “confrontation” as normal, as the AFP experiences such during re-supply missions.
Duterte wants ‘overnight’ at Pag-asa
On the construction at Pag-asa, the Defense chief said the government has allocated P1.6 billion for the improvement of the island. It was the wish of President Rodrigo Duterte to improve facilities there, he said.
“Actually the construction of the beaching and the repair of the runway has been awarded but it was held in abeyance while the case was being heard by the PCA. There was already a verdict so I think we could already resume [construction]and that’s what the President wants, to improve the facilities [there],” he noted.
Lorenzana said the construction brigade of the Philippine Navyhad been tasked to do the beaching ramp to allow sea vessels to dock and deliver construction materials to island.
China is expected to raise some kind of protest when construction begins, as it had done in the past.
“They have been protesting. And we are protesting also. It was exchange of protest,” he said.
Lorenzana said he was hoping no unfortunate incident would happen.
“I told the Chinese ambassador that we have been here [since]1970, or 1969 I think. In the late 1960’s we are already here and in 1975 we put up the runway,” he said.
Lorenzana said Duterte had told him he would no longer go to Pag-asa as earlier planned to avoid agitating Beijing.
Still, the President, said Lorenzana, still wanted to spend a night in the island and sleep with the troops.
“He said he wants to have an overnight here. ‘Let’s sleep with the troops,’ he told me,” Lorenzana said.
“Maybe in the future. We don’t know exactly when,” the secretary added.

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‘China fired at us’ – Filipino fishers

A group of Filipino fishermen have accused China’s coast guard of shooting at their vessel in disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) waters, Philippine authorities said Friday.
Philippine officials said they were investigating the reported attack on the Princess Johann boat, which the crew said occurred near a Chinese-occupied section of the Kalayaan (Spratly) archipelago on March 27.
There were no casualties during the incident, authorities added.
“(Princess Johann) was reportedly fired upon seven times by a Chinese speedboat with seven Chinese coast guards on board,” a Philippine Coast Guard statement said.
The armed speedboat approached the Filipino vessel after it dropped anchor about 3.7 kilometers (2 nautical miles) off the Chinese side of the Union Banks atoll, it said.
“The crew hid and eventually cut their anchor line and fled the area,” the statement added.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters at a regular briefing that Beijing had “no information” on the matter.
If confirmed the incident would be the first hostile episode in nearly a year involving the two countries, which have seen warming relations since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in mid-2016.
Both the Philippine coast guard and military are investigating the incident.
“(The Union Banks) is located inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone,” military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea grants coastal states exclusive rights to develop and exploit natural resources in the waters that extend up to 370 kilometers off their coasts.
But China claims most of the South China Sea and in recent years has been building up disputed reefs into artificial islands that can house military facilities.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam also claim the Spratlys either wholly or in part.
Reversing the course set by predecessor Benigno Aquino, Duterte has sought to improve his nation’s relations with Beijing by adopting a non-confrontational approach over their competing claims in the strategically vital waters.
Since then, Duterte said China has allowed Filipinos to fish in waters around the Panatag (Scarborough Shoal), another outcrop in the South China Sea that Beijing seized in 2012 after a stand-off with the Philippine Navy.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

55 Chinese nabbed for online gaming

The Freeport Area of Bataan (FAB) here clarified that the 55 Chinese apprehended by the Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Tuesday committed crimes in China, not in Bataan or anywhere in the Philippines.
Emmanuel Pineda, FAB administrator, said there was no online gambling in the Freeport but only technical support for online gaming through Business Process Outsourcing (BPO).
“I learned from Administrator Pineda that FAB and the locators have no liability in the case of the nabbed Chinese. The Chinese entered the Philippines legally with all their papers in order,” Bataan Gov. Albert Garcia said.
He said immigration and Chinese Embassy officials raided FAB after the Chinese government canceled the passports of those arrested in connection with online gaming committed in China where it is an economic crime.
“They were arrested as illegal aliens, not for online gaming in Bataan,” Pineda said.
The administrator said the 55 Chinese apprehended by the Immigration bureau were part of about 400 Chinese working in 20 BPO centers and other companies in the former Bataan Export Processing Zone.
He added there are 120 multinational firms operating in FAB with more than 36,000 workers in direct employment.
Pineda pointed out that the mission order of BI was on individuals, not on the companies.

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UP doctorate for Duterte sparks uproar

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte will not accept an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of the Philippines, quashing uproar from alumni and students of the state institution.
“With due respect to University of the Philippines, I do not accept [awards]even when I was [still a]mayor…As a matter of personal and official policy, I do not accept awards. That’s not in my character,” Duterte told reporters after a command conference in Bohol as part of preparations for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings next week.
“I am not rejecting it . . . I simply declined,” Duterte added.
Earlier in the day, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the President would likely accept the honor.
Abella, however, clarified that UP had yet to send official communication to the Palace.
The honorary doctor of laws degree is conferred by the UP Board of Regents, as a matter of tradition, on the sitting Chief Executive.
Abella stressed that the President was not salivating over the UP honorary degree. “It’s not something that he runs after,” he said.
Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, echoed this.
“Being elected as President is enough recognition. No other recognition or honorary degrees could eclipse that,” he said in a statement.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo insisted that the President’s critics have yet to prove allegations of human rights violations.
“The allegations on human rights violations remain just that, allegations. The ground for the opposition, therefore is baseless if not misplaced,” Panelo said in a separate statement.
Duterte, a lawyer, finished his bachelor of arts degree in political science at Lyceum of the Philippines in 1968 and earned his law degree from San Beda College in 1972. He passed the bar exams the same year. He was a city prosecutor in Davao before joining politics in 1988.
‘Tradition’
UP students and alumni expressed strong opposition on Wednesday to the decision of the school’s Board of Regents to grant Duterte an honorary doctor of laws degree.
The decision was made on Tuesday by members of the board, chaired by university president Danilo Concepcion and co-chaired by Commission on Higher Education Chairwoman Patricia Licuanan.
The Board of Regents serves as the highest decision-making body of the university and is composed of members representing alumni, faculty, staff and students.
The heads of the education committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Sen. Francis Escudero and Rep. Ann Hofer of Zamboanga Sibugay, respectively, are also members.
Licuanan said the conferment of the degree on Duterte would be “in keeping with tradition” of UP.
Previous presidents were also given the honorary degree, except Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who turned it down.
Aside from the President, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd will also be given honorary degrees.
The decision drew the ire of students and alumni, with the hashtag #DuterteNotWorthy making the rounds of social media on Wednesday.
Benjie Allen Aquino, a business administration and accountancy student and the incoming chairman of the University Student Council of UP Diliman, posted on his social media account that granting Duterte an honorary doctorate degree “leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”
“It is an offensive, unpleasant, and a wretched injustice to the thousands left for dead by extrajudicial killings,” said Aquino.
He described Duterte as a “misogynist, sexist, homophobic, mass-murdering, fentanyl-addicted, human-rights-violating strongman.”
Political science student and incoming USC councilor Cassie Delura said: “The condemnation of the UP students of President Duterte’s policies have been publicized many times. Just because this decision is customary means that the current President is deserving? No. I do not think so.”
UP alumnus and former Akbayan representative Ibarra Gutierrez said he was also not in favor of giving Duterte the same honor granted to the late South African president and political prisoner Nelson Mandela.
UP Student Regent Raoul Danniel Manuel, in a statement, blasted the decision of his fellow members in the Board of Regents and said the public “must not turn a blind eye to the deeds of the current regime by giving it such recognition.”
Theodore Te, Public Information Office chief of the Supreme Court, a former UP law professor, blasted the UP board’s decision and said Duterte did not deserve an honorary law doctorate because he had “encouraged impunity” and had “weakened the rule of law.”

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Pence vows overwhelming response to NKorea

The United States will counter any North Korean attack with an “overwhelming and effective” response, Vice President Mike Pence vowed Wednesday, as he stood on the deck of a massive American aircraft carrier docked in Japan.
Donald Trump’s deputy is in the region to reassure allies fretting over Pyongyang’s quickening missile program, and its apparent readiness to carry out another banned nuclear test in its quest to develop an atomic weapon that can hit the US mainland.
Pence, whose visit started in South Korea the day after the failed launch by North Korea of what analysts said could have been a new missile, described the threat from the isolated regime as growing.
Aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the vice president, adopting a Churchillian tone, told troops he was there as “storm clouds gather on the horizon” of Northeast Asia.
“North Korea is the most dangerous and urgent threat to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific,” Pence said.
But, “we will defeat any attack and meet any use of conventional or nuclear weapons with an overwhelming and effective American response.”
Pence’s comments come after a senior North Korean official warned the regime had no intention of dialing down its missile program, pledging weekly tests and threatening “all-out war” if the US took any action against it.
That kind of rhetoric has unnerved allies in Japan and South Korea, who would be at the sharp end of any North Korean response.
Seoul, the South Korean capital, is just 56 kilometers away from the military demarcation line that splits the Korean peninsula, and is within easy range of North Korean long-range artillery.
The Ronald Reagan, whose home port is Yokosuka in Japan, is part of the Seventh Fleet and is regularly deployed around the western Pacific.

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Pacquiao seeks end to tax woes

Senator Manny Pacquiao wants an end to the litigation of the complaint he filed against the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in connection with the P2.2 billion tax that the latter wants to collect from him.
Pacquiao on Wednesday confirmed that he is open to the possibility of settling his tax problem with the BIR and negotiations are ongoing.
“I have always been open to the possibility of amicably settling the tax assessments of the BIR which in my view are without basis,” Pacquiao said in a statement relayed by his media relations officer Aquiles Zonio to The Manila Times.
“It is my desire to seek an end to the pending litigation because, as a senator, I do not want to maintain a case against the government,” he added. “I was only forced to file a case in order to defend myself from the actions of the BIR which I believe were violative of my rights under the law.”
“I have the utmost trust and respect for Commissioner Caesar Dulay. My only request from the lawyers of both parties is that the discussions be based on the evidence on hand and not on mere perceptions,” Pacquiao said.
Pacquiao’s business manager Enrico Pineda, who serves as a congressman representing 1-Pacman partylist, said they expect a positive response from the BIR.
“I’m hoping this issue (tax evasion) will be settled the soonest because everybody knows that Pacquiao is not a tax evader,” Pineda, also the team manager of Mahindra in the Philippine Basketball Association, said.
“He was just singled out by the past administration. I’m hoping the issue will end,” he added.
The BIR filed a P 2.2 billion tax liability case against Pacquiao for not allegedly paying correct taxes in 2008 and 2009. But Pacquiao questioned the tax assessment and in 2013 filed a complaint against the BIR at the Court of Tax Appeals.

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NFA chief seeking costly rice imports

After ditching a proposal to buy more locally grown palay from Filipino farmers, state-run National Food Authority (NFA) now wants to import higher-priced commercial grade rice varieties from Vietnam and Thailand.
A document obtained by The Manila Times showed that NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino had asked President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval for the importation of some 1.3 million metric tons (MT) of rice for this year.
The proposal includes the immediate utilization of a 250,000 MT standby authority before the onset of the lean season, and another 1 million MT for the remainder of the year.
The rice to be imported are 5 percent and 15 percent broken varieties, which are more expensive compared with the 25 percent broken rice varieties previously imported by the NFA.
“In line with our concerted effort to improve the NFA’s fiscal position, we have come up with a comparative cost estimates on importing higher grade rice varieties to include the 5 percent brokens,” Aquino told President Rodrigo Duterte in a letter.
Aquino also told the President that the importation of the 5 percent broken rice variety would have a positive impact on the NFA’s financial condition, considering that it could be sold at a higher price.
A source privy to the matter said that 5 percent and 15 percent brokens would directly compete with commercial rice, making NFA buffer stocks too expensive for poor Filipinos.
“This proposal went straight to the President. It bypassed the NFA Council, which gives recommendation for the timing and volume of rice to be imported,” the source said.
With less than three months before the start of the lean season, Aquino in an earlier statement said the government needed to secure an additional 490,800 MT or 9.8 million bags of rice as part of its food security program in preparation for calamities.
Aquino had stressed that the only way the NFA could fill the deficit in its rice buffer stock requirement was through importation, preferably a government-to-government (G2G) deal. The NFA administrator’s order was directly against President Duterte’s order to prioritize local palay procurement.
“Much as we would want this additional stock to come from local produce, we cannot compete with the private traders who are offering prices much higher than the government’s P17/kilogram support price,” Aquino said in a statement.
NFA’s field monitoring shows that traders are buying palay from the dry season harvest at an average of P18-P20/kg across the country.
The proposed purchase of 5 percent and 15 percent brokens, however, will cost the government P26.27/kg and P25.47/kg, respectively.
The NFA was formed in 1972 with the goal of protecting the interests of both rice producers and consumers. Its two primary mandates are to stabilize the price of rice and to ensure food security.
The price stabilization mandate means that the NFA tries to influence prices on two fronts. At one front, it must support palay farmers. At the same time, it must also ensure that the price of rice is low enough for consumers.
Over the past two years, the NFA has relied massively on cheaper imported rice to replenish its buffer stocks since it could not compete with private millers and traders in buying locally grown palay.
Buying rice from abroad cuts the agency’s spending on buying and milling locally grown palay, and it can earn more and slash losses by selling to consumers at higher prices.
Under the new proposal, however, buying higher-priced rice from abroad for buffer stocking while limiting local palay procurement will effectively contradict the grains agency’s mandate.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Piñol blocks NFA move to import rice

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday blocked a proposal by the National Food Authority (NFA) to immediately import rice and secure the government’s buffer stock, at least until the end of harvest season in June.
“The President did not issue a ‘no importation’ order. All that he said was that importation of rice should not be made during the peak harvest season of the local rice farms,” Piñol told reporters.
“There may be shortfall in their [NFA] buffer stock, but it doesn’t mean that there is shortage in the overall stock [in the country],” he said.
Piñol noted the country has enough rice reserves with more than 4.14 million metric tons of palay harvest in the first quarter of the year, on top of the 250,000 metric tons (MT) imported last December and 650,000 MT that arrived last month.
“Anong shortage ang pinag-uusapan natin? We are talking at least 4 million metric tons of rice, and the country’s consumption of about 10.5 million MT every year,” he said.
NFA Administrator Jason Laureano Aquino earlier made a call for the 250,000 MT rice imports under a standby authority as part of preparations for possible calamities during the lean months of July to September.
Aquino also said the government needs to secure from international suppliers another 490,800 MT of rice for buffer stock, noting that the NFA will not be able to buy from local farmers due to higher prices offered by private traders.
The Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) has mandated the NFA to maintain a 15-day rice buffer stock at any given time and 30 days during the lean months, based on a daily consumption of 32,150 MT or 643,000 bags.
Aquino stressed that the only way the NFA can fill the deficit in its rice reserves is through importation.
“Ideally, the whole volume should arrive in the country within April to allow the NFA to preposition the stocks, especially in calamity-prone areas across the country,” he said.
In an earlier report by the National News Bureau of Thailand, the Thai Commerce Ministry said the Philippines plans to import 1.3 million MT of rice this year, from 450,000 MT last year.
“Should there be any importation, it should be done by the NFA,” Piñol said.
Piñol is pushing for the creation of a Task Force that would look into the “real” rice situation in the country, saying the latest supply statistics were distorted and unreliable.
“We need to establish the actual rice stock situation so that the government could come up with the correct statistics which could be the basis of sound agricultural planning, especially when it comes to the country’s rice production program,” the Department of Agriculture (DA) chief said on Facebook.
The interagency task force will include the DA, NFA, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs and Philippine National Police.
“I will ask the President to empower the Task Group to open and inspect all grains warehouses all over the country,” he said. “Hopefully, the Task Force will be able to give us accurate baseline information and a very clear picture of the rice industry in the country.”
There should be an accurate inventory of actual rice stocks, Piñol said, including smuggled rice that enters the country.
“Sino makakapagsabi ng actual inventory ng rice stocks all over the country? Walang makakapagsabi, not even PSA,” Piñol said.
“If we really would like to establish a credible stock position, we need to factor in the smuggled rice. The only way to do this is to inspect all warehouses nationwide,” he added.
Based on figures from lobby group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), the Philippines imported 1.8 million MT on average from 2006 to 2015, significantly higher than the minimum access volume of 350,000 MT in 2006 to 2011 and 805,200 MT in 2012 to 2015.
The group said smuggled rice reached as high as 1 million MT in 2012, when private traders were allowed to import. It noted rice smuggling was more controlled when private sector importation was limited in 2013 and 2014.
Piñol said the warehouse inspections, including the actual inventory of the NFA, would start this second quarter.
The official, however, failed to mention how the task force will conduct the inspection on household stocks, which holds over half of the country’s rice stock.
As of March 1, the total rice inventories were good for two months at 2.18 million MT. Households accounted for 53 percent of the inventory, commercial warehouses held 28.81 percent and NFA was holding 18.24 percent.

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