RIYADH: US President Donald Trump launched an eight-day foreign tour in Saudi Arabia on Saturday, taking his first steps on the world stage as scandals mount at home.
Trump got a warm welcome in the oil-rich kingdom where he is to hold talks with Saudi King Salman and other senior royals—a mood in sharp contrast to Washington where pressure is building after fresh claims over his team’s alleged links to Moscow.
Air Force One had barely taken off when it was announced that James Comey, the former FBI chief fired by Trump, had agreed to testify publicly about Russian interference in the US elections.
Reports also emerged that Trump had called Comey “a nut job” and that the FBI had identified a senior White House official as a “significant person of interest” in its probe of Russian meddling.
A red carpet was rolled out and staircase rolled up to Air Force One after it landed at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh shortly before 10 a.m. (0700 GMT).
Trump and his wife Melania, who dressed conservatively in black but did not cover her hair, walked side-by-side to the tarmac where they both shook hands with King Salman.
Trump’s daughter and presidential adviser Ivanka Trump and Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner exited from the rear of the plane, holding hands as they walked across the tarmac.
The 81-year-old king, walking with a cane, led the president and first lady into an airport reception room, where they chatted over coffee.
Key speech to Muslim leaders Trump was to hold formal talks with the Saudi leader and the kingdom’s two powerful crown princes, before giving a speech on Islam to leaders of Muslim countries on Sunday.
For Riyadh, the visit is an opportunity to rebuild ties with a key ally, strained under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama who Sunni Arab Gulf states suspected of a tilt towards their Shiite regional rival Iran.
That, together with a more muted focus on human rights and the likely announcement of new arms deals, should please Washington’s traditional Sunni Gulf allies, analysts say.
Sunday’s speech to dozens of Muslim leaders has been touted as a major event – along the lines of a landmark address to the Islamic world given by Obama in Cairo in 2009.
The speech will be especially sensitive given tensions sparked by the Trump administration’s attempted travel ban targeting several Muslim majority nations and accusations of anti-Islamic rhetoric on the campaign trail.
“I’ll speak with Muslim leaders and challenge them to fight hatred and extremism, and embrace a peaceful future for their faith,” Trump said ahead of his visit.
Trump wants Gulf states in particular to do more to tackle extremists such as the Islamic State jihadist group. Before departing, the US president tweeted he would be “strongly protecting American interests” on his marathon trip.
While most US presidents make their first foreign trip to neighboring Canada or Mexico, 70-year-old Trump has opted instead for the Middle East and Europe.
Avalanche of revelations He travels to Israel and the Palestinian Territories on Monday and Tuesday, and then to the Vatican and to Brussels and Italy for NATO and G7 meetings.
The tour has been billed as a chance to visit places sacred to the three major monotheistic religions—Islam, Judaism and Christianity.
But it is also fraught with peril for the real estate magnate, who is known to dislike lengthy travel.
The avalanche of revelations in the run-up to his departure has eroded Trump’s standing at home – where the parallels with Richard Nixon’s ill-fated presidency are now being openly drawn.
On Friday, a report by The Washington Post that the probe into his campaign’s Russia ties had identified a “significant person of interest” in the White House undercut Trump’s insistence his election bid had nothing to do with the Kremlin.
The White House was rocked by another bombshell when reports emerged that Trump said his firing of “nut job” Comey had relieved “great pressure” on him due to the investigation.
The scandals have revived questions about his ability to strike a presidential tone with his foreign counterparts, with Trump declaring himself the victim of the “greatest witch hunt” in American political history.
The first leg of the trip is likely to be the easiest—Saudi leaders welcomed Trump’s election and are keen to work with an administration they see as more in line with their goals.
The normally austere kingdom has put on a major display for the visit, with the streets of Riyadh lined with US and Saudi flags and billboards featuring Trump and King Salman.
Major Saudi arms deal The expected announcement of an arms deal worth more than $100 billion—potentially one of the biggest in US history—would also be good news for both Trump and the Saudis.
The next leg in Israel and the Palestinians Territories could be more complicated, despite the history of warm ties between Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The visit is already awash in controversy, from a row over Trump’s planned visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, the holiest prayer site for Jews, to his alleged disclosure of Israeli intelligence to Russian officials.
After meeting Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Trump will see Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Bethlehem, part of his efforts to revive the long-stagnant Middle East peace process.
On Tuesday Trump heads to Rome to meet with Pope Francis. The two men are at odds on many things from climate change to refugee policy, although the Pontiff says he will give America’s bullish leader an open-minded hearing.
The US president will then meet members of NATO in Brussels and attend a G7 summit in the picturesque Sicilian town of Taormina overlooking the Mediterranean.
These meetings—including with new French President Emmanuel Macron—will be closely watched for signs of whether Trump and traditional US allies in Europe can work together.
FORMER Negros Oriental representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras claimed on Saturday that alleged pork scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles had told him that former president Benigno Aquino 3rd “was getting commission from her.”
According to Paras, Napoles admitted to this sometime in late 2009 or early 2010 in a restaurant at Linden Suites in Pasig City. Aquino was a senator at the time.
“I was witness to her statement that Noynoy Aquino was getting commission from her, according to her…she said [this]in front of me and another lawyer,” Paras, lawyer of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, said during a forum at Annabel’s restaurant in Quezon City.
Sought for comment, Abigail Valte, who was deputy presidential spokeswoman during Aquino’s term as president, told The Manila Times in a text message, “That’s preposterous. Some quarters will do anything to associate the former president with Janet Napoles. So far, no one has been able to go beyond hearsay and speculation, only pointing fingers.”
Napoles was acquitted last month of a serious illegal detention charge filed by the pork scam star witness, Benhur Luy, and is now being considered as a state witness.
The Justice department plans to reinvestigate the pork barrel scam, claiming the previous administration did not run after Aquino’s allies who were also involved in the mess.
Paras on Saturday claimed Napoles told him about the recipients of her political campaign donations.
“Napoles set an appointment with me,” Paras told reporters in an interview. “I asked, ‘Jenny, who will you support this coming election?’ She said, ‘As for me sir, I’m for Manny Villar,’” Paras said.
“Sabi ko, ‘Bakit, ayaw mo ba kay Noynoy kasi he’s gaining ground?’ Sabi niya, ‘Sir e, ano iyan e, nangongomisyon sa akin,’” he said. (“I said, ‘Why, don’t you want to support Aquino because he’s gaining ground?’ She said, ‘Sir, he gets commissions from me.’”)
“This was in front of her lawyer,” Paras said. “I hope she will acknowledge the fact that she said that.” “If she eventually becomes a state witness, my only request of her is to tell the truth…If what she told me is the truth, I hope she reiterates that,” Paras added.
Napoles, who is detained at Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City, is among several individuals facing charges before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in connection with the Priority Development Assistance Fund or pork barrel scam.
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte is set to appoint retired Brig. Gen. Danilo “Danny” Lim as the next chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Malacañang said on Saturday.
In a text message to reporters, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea confirmed that Lim would soon be named MMDA chairman.
Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go, in a separate text message, said Duterte was set to sign Lim’s appointment papers on Monday, before leaving for Russia.
MMDA General Manager Thomas Orbos will keep his post, Medialdea said.
Lim, a West Point graduate, was part of the 1989 coup against President Corazon Aquino, which came close to toppling her. He was then a Scout Ranger captain.
Lim was detained on coup charges but was reinstated years later. He was subsequently involved in attempts to bring down the Arroyo administration.
Lim ran for senator in 2010 under the Liberal Party, but lost. He was deputy customs commissioner for intelligence under Aquino until he resigned in July 2013 because of alleged corruption in the bureau.
Road safety advocates on Thursday stressed that slower driving speeds have been found to drastically reduce fatality rates in road mishaps.
In the launching of the SaveLives #SlowDown campaign, various groups pledged to raise awareness and push for reforms to advance road safety awareness, including advocating slower driving speeds among motorists.
The campaign was organized by Safe Kids Worldwide Philippines (SKWP) together with Safe Kids Worldwide Network, Global Alliance of NGOs for Road Safety, Motorcycle Development Program Participants Association, Inc. and the World Health Organizations.
The launching of the campaign was hosted by SM Prime Holdings Inc. and was held at the Music Hall of the Mall of Asia in Pasay City. It was set to coincide with the United Nations-led Global Road Safety Week.
Jocelyn Yambao-Franco, President of SWKP, pointed to the need to slow down on the road as she cited that recent data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that road traffic crashes kill an average of 34 Filipinos a day and is the main cause of death for youths aged 15 to 19 years.
Worldwide, an estimated 1.25 million die and over 50 million are injured on road crashes annually and by 2020, road traffic crashes are expected to increase by 80 percent in low and middle income countries due to increasing motorization.
Benjamin Lane, health systems team leader of WHO Philippines, said reducing speed even by just 1 kilometer per hour will save lives.
Jesus de la Fuente, Executive Director of SKWP, agreed, saying that a large portion of traffic road crashes that are fatal are caused by speeding.
“A great portion of our road traffic crashes especially those that are fatal are caused by speeding and it has already proven that a five percent cut in average speed can result in a 30 percent reduction in the number of fatal road traffic crashes. This is what we hope to achieve in this event,” de la Fuente stressed.
He said if the government and the public do not introduce effective road safety interventions, more people will die or get injured in road accidents.
De la Fuente cited that road traffic crashes have increased in the Philippines for the past several years.
“Government data show transport-related crashes in the country have increased sharply from 15,572 in 2014 to 24,565 in 2016,” he said.
Mark de Leon, assistant secretary of the Department of Transportation (DoTr) said they are set to implement various programs that will make roads safer to everyone.
“We are proposing the installation of speed limit devices in all our public utility vehicles as well as dashcams and CCTVs for the protection of not only our riding public but pedestrians. DoTr will make sure our roads are safer,” he said.
In 2011, the WHO launched the Decade of Action for Road Safety which prescribes a framework designed to curb the rising number of road traffic injuries and fatalities in the World.
Following the 2011 Framework on Road Safety, the DoTr spearheaded the formulation of the Philippine Road Safety Action Plan 2011-2020 with the goal of reducing road traffic crashes by 2020.
Royce Cabunag, director of SM Cares Program on Children and Youth, said “In this fast-paced world, not everything needs to move at the speed of light, and the road is definitely a place where slowing down is vital and lifesaving. SM is a proud partner in this advocacy to protect and save lives, especially that of our children.”
SKWP is a non-government organization working for the prevention of unintentional injuries to children 14 years old and below. It addresses issues of road traffic crashes, drowning, falls, burns and poisoning. SKWP is a member of Safe Kids Global Network with more than 30 member countries and 400 coalitions in the United States and the Global Alliance of Non-Government Organizations (NGO) for Road Safety with more than 170 member NGOs from more than 90 countries around the world.
MANILA can file another case against Beijing before a United Nations tribunal for threatening war against the Philippines over the dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said on Saturday.
In a statement, Carpio said the Philippine government can run to the UN tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) to protect Philippine territory.
“The threat of China to go to war against the Philippines if the Philippines extracts oil and gas in the Reed Bank, or in any area within Philippine EEZ (exclusive economic zone) in the West Philippine Sea, is a gross violation of the United Nations Charter, Unclos, and the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia to which China and the Philippines are parties,” Carpio said.
“As a nation that under its Constitution has renounced war as an instrument of national policy, the Philippines’ recourse is to bring China’s threat of war to another Unclos arbitral tribunal, to secure an order directing China to comply with the ruling of the Unclos arbitral tribunal that declared the Reed Bank part of Philippine EEZ,” he added.
Carpio was referring to the July 26, 2016 ruling of a UN-backed arbitral court in The Hague in favor of the Philippines. The decision invalidated China’s claims on the disputed waters, including its nine-dash-line map covering nearly the entire South China Sea.
Carpio issued the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte’s revelation on Friday that China had threatened to use force against the Philippines if it will extract oil from Recto (Reed) Bank.
Recto Bank is internationally recognized as part of the Philippines’ EEZ in the West Philippine Sea, but is claimed by China as part of its territory.
Carpio insisted that the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague has already ruled with finality that the Recto Bank is within the Philippines’ EEZ, and only the Philippines can exploit natural resources within the area.
He also reminded China that the UN Charter outlaws the use or threat of force to settle disputes between states.
Carpio was part of the Philippine legal team that lodged a petition against China at The Hague, Netherlands, to invalidate Beijing’s claims over the resource-rich South China Sea.
Duterte has played down that ruling and pushed for rapprochement with China, seeking billions of dollars in trade and investment from Beijing.
On Friday, Duterte claimed China threatened to go to war over the maritime dispute if the Philippines began drilling for oil.
“If it’s yours, well that is your view, but my view is that I can drill the oil if there is some inside the bowels of the earth, because it is ours,” he said in remarks in Davao City, recalling a conversation with Chinese officials without specifying when it took place.
“They answered: ‘Well, we are friends. We do not want to quarrel with you. We would want to maintain the present warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we will go to war,’” Duterte said.
‘Inaction means losing EEZ’
Carpio said Duterte “cannot simply do nothing, or worse acquiesce to China’s action, for inaction is the opposite of protecting Philippine EEZ.”
“Under international law, acquiescence is the inaction of a state in the face of threat to its rights under circumstances calling for objection to the threat to its rights. Acquiescence means the Philippines will lose forever its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea to China,” he said.
He said China is the only country that “has threatened the Philippines with war over Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.”
“China’s threat of war against the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea reveals the aggressive design of China against the Philippines,” he said.
“This extremely troubling development calls for all Filipinos to unite to defend the West Philippine Sea in accordance with the Constitution, international law and Unclos,” he added.
Recto Bank is vital to Philippine national and economic interest as it is the only replacement for the Malampaya offshore gas field, which supplies 40 percent of the energy requirement of Luzon.
Carpio warned that Malampaya will run out of gas in less than 10 years, and unless the Philippines develops Reed Bank, Luzon will suffer 10 to 12 hours of brownouts daily 10 years from now, devastating the Philippine economy.
Damages for every day of delay
The Philippines, the magistrate said, can also seek damages “for every day of delay that the Philippines is prevented by China from exploiting Philippine EEZ.”
Carpio also said that the Philippines can even sponsor a resolution condemning China’s threat of war against the Philippines before the UN General Assembly, where Beijing has no veto power.
China’s threat of war against the Philippines requires the Philippines to strengthen its defenses and alliances, particularly with Washington, he said.
“The Philippines must strengthen its alliance with the United States, the only country with whom the Philippines has a mutual defense treaty. The United Nations Charter recognizes the right of states to mutual self-defense against armed aggression,” he said.
The United States does not claim the West Philippine Sea or any Philippine territory, he noted.
The country cannot align itself with China, he pointed out, because it wants to grab for itself the West Philippine Sea and the Spratlys.
“As long as China threatens the Philippines with war over the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines can never lower its guard in its dealings with China,” Carpio said.
‘Peaceful engagement’ In Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the Philippines and China have agreed to resolve the dispute in South China Sea using “more peaceful” means.
Abella admitted that the attempt of President Duterte to raise the issue of oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea alarmed the Chinese government.
He said the best way to settle the dispute is to push for a diplomatic approach rather than invoke the arbitration ruling.
“The Philippines engaged China in a frank discussion on possible explorations in the West Philippine Sea. President Duterte was forthright about its economic rights awarded by the arbitral court in The Hague, a claim the Chinese leader said they would vigorously contest, given their historic claims to the area,” Abella said. “Given this complexity, both parties agreed to pursue a more peaceful resolution to the matter that satisfied both our economic and sovereign rights,” he added.
In a separate statement, the Palace official also dismissed Carpio’s remarks accusing Duterte of giving China a green light to perform reclamation activities in the disputed waters.
Abella told Carpio that China’s reclamation activities have been going on for years, before Duterte assumed office.
Carpio, in a speech in Makati City on Thursday, said China is assuming that Duterte is allowing it to continue land reclamation in the contested waters, following his refusal to mention the issue in his Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) chairman’s statement.
The final Asean chairman’s statement, which was revised several times, omitted a phrase citing the bloc’s “serious concerns” over reclamation and militarization activities of the Chinese government in the South China Sea.
“The President was responsible for the chairman’s statement [but made]no mention of reclamation or militarization. For the Chinese, this is a green light,” Carpio said.
But the Palace official said Duterte was employing “two-track strategy” in dealing with the maritime dispute.
“President Rodrigo R. Duterte maintains a two-track approach to our relationship with [China]; one, to grow our healthy economic, trade and investment relationships, and to ensure that our arbitral rights in the WPS (West Philippine Sea) are not compromised, more so now through the newly established bilateral consultation mechanism to manage disputes in the area,” Abella said.
“The disputes in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea are not the sum total of our relations with China, but we are cognizant of the warmer relationships we have in the region,” he added.
The two countries held bilateral consultations on the South China Sea dispute last Friday, in a bid to address the territorial row. Officials will meet again in Manila later this year.
Some 147 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who availed of the 90-day amnesty program offered by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia last March arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) via Philippine Airlines (PAL) on Thursday.
The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) said the repatriation of the workers including 12 children was part of the “Sagip Sundo ng Pangulo.”
The 147 returnees were among the 5,000 OFWs who took the opportunity to come home after their “iqama” expired on March 19 and immediately availed of the Saudi government’s amnesty program to avoid harsh penalty.
One of the OFWs identified as Sophia Fessehason, 33, a native of Jolo, Sulu, have five children from his husband, a Yemeni. She met him in Saudi Arabia in 2005. Her husband was killed in a car bombing when he returned to Yemen for a visit in 2014.
Since then, Sophia’s sister, who is also working in Saudi Arabia, helped her raise her children. Despite being a illegitimate worker, she was able to get help from the Philippine Embassy to include her in the amnesty program.
Sophia has decided to bring her children to Jolo because she cannot raise them alone without the help of her relatives in the province.
At least 4,000 OFWs have registered for repatriation and are due to arrive within the next few days, one batch after another, according to Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd.
Some areas in Quezon and Valenzuela cities will have no water from 5 p.m. Thursday until midnight, Maynilad Water Services Inc. (Maynilad) said.
There will be low pressure to no water in portions of Barangay Bagbag, Sauyo, San Bartolome, Talipapa, Nagkaisang Nayon, Bagong Silangan, Batasan Hills, Commonwealth, Holy Spirit, and Payatas in Quezon City and Barangay Ugong in Valenzuela City.
The water company said it had to fill up its reservoir in La Mesa dam “which got depleted owing to increased demand versus available supply.”
A P48-billion government subsidy under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train) bill package won’t save the poor from looming new taxes on fuel and sugar- sweetened beverages, among others.
Rep. Sarah Elago of Kabataan party-list and Rep. Arnolfo Teves of Negros Oriental gave the warning after congressional leaders announced that Train bill will be approved on Wednesday next week.
The Train bill grants income tax exemption to those earning P250,000 and below a year but increases taxes on diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel, kerosene, liquefied petroleum gas, bunker fuel oil and sugar sweetened beverages, among others.
The P48-billion subsidy, which is 40 percent of the expected P120-billion revenue out of additional fuel taxes, will fund the social benefits program that will grant qualified beneficiaries a social benefit card and allocation for granting fuel vouchers to qualified transport franchise holders.
This government subsidy, however, is only good for three years since the increased fuel taxes will be staggered in three years.
How qualified beneficiaries of the social benefits program will be determined is not provided under the proposed Train bill.
“The subsidy is not reassuring because how can we be assured that this subsidy will reach those who are really in need of it? The best reassurance that the government could give is to show the people that it is taking steps in ensuring efficient tax administration and collection, and that the benefits of these taxes are enjoyed by the people,” Elago told reporters.
“As it is, the public is already having a hard time benefiting from the services funded by our taxes, and the lowered income tax is being held hostage by this Train bill by adding taxes on fuel and sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as on remittances and scrapping tax breaks for cooperatives, a heavy burden to the poor and the struggling middle class,” she added.
Elago is a part of the Makabayan bloc, which groups party-list representatives from Kabataan, Bayan Muna, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Gabriela and Anakpawis.
Makabayan bloc lawmakers have filed a bill lowering the income tax rates from 32 to 25 percent but decided against being co-authors of the Train bill because of the additional taxes provided for under the measure.
“This bill is a good thing and a bad thing at the same time because of the new taxes. This is why I call on our colleagues to reject the Train bill. The priority of the administration should be efficient tax collection and fighting graft and corruption,” Elago said.
“I will vote against it because I don’t believe this will spare the poor. The increase in fuel prices only means that the prices of basic commodities will also go up,” Teves said.
Elago said efficient tax collection bythe Bureau of Customs means P230 billion more in government revenues.
The Duterte administration, he added, should not secure support for the Train measure by threatening the public that the bill’s non-passage will jeopardize the government’s planned P1 trillion worth of infrastructure projects for the duration of the Duterte presidency.
“The public should not be blackmailed into thinking that infrastructure projects cannot be funded without new taxes. The poor and the middle class should not bear the brunt of the inefficient tax collection system,” Elago said.
President Rodrigo Duterte has signed an executive order banning smoking in all public places nationwide, a Palace official announced on Thursday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella confirmed that Duterte signed Executive Order 26 on Tuesday, May 16.
The order bans smoking in schools, universities and recreational facilities for minors.
Smoking is also prohibited in enclosed public places and public conveyances.
EO 26 also prohibits the selling, distribution, purchase and usage of tobacco products for minors, and the placement, posting, displaying and distribution of tobacco-related promotional materials within 100 meters from the perimeter of a school, public playground, and other facility frequented by minors.
Smoking is also not allowed in centers of youth activity such as playschools, preparatory schools, elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities, youth hostels and recreational facilities for minors; elevators and stairwells, hospitals, medical, dental and optical clinics.
Those who violate the order face a penalty of from P1,000 up to P400,000, depending on the gravity of the offense.
CABINET Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr. on Tuesday announced a shift in government policy on rice importation after the National Food Authority (NFA) Council allowed private traders to import rice through foreign governments to increase buffer stocks ahead of the lean months.
In a news conference, Evasco said the NFA will push through with rice importation through the government-to-private sector or G2P scheme as it is “more competitive, least corrupt, and more transparent” than the government-to-government or G2G scheme earlier pushed by NFA chief Jason Aquino.
Evasco and Aquino had clashed over conflicting policies on rice importation. Aquino bats for G2G importation while Evasco wants it done through private rice traders.
Evasco said Aquino, during Monday’s NFA Council meeting, expressed support for the council’s decision.
“They’re not supposed to contradict the position of the NFA Council and I’m happy to let you know the administrator of the NFA was present during the NFA Council meeting yesterday…He (Aquino) was supportive,” Evasco said.
But Evasco insisted that Aquino’s proposed G2G scheme to import rice had been used for corrupt activities. “Unfortunately, this G2G has been abused. This has been used for corrupt practices because there is no bidding involved here. It is only entered through a negotiated contract between the Philippines and supplying country. Once you pay the money to the supplying country, it’s just like money thrown outside,” he said. The Cabinet secretary said G2G importation could still be done in the future but G2P was the preferred mode, to rid the NFA of corruption.
Private suppliers from participating countries may now be allowed to join the bidding, as provided by the Government Procurement Reform Act, instead of limiting the bidders to government counterparts.
“While the G2G is exempt from the Government Procurement Reform Act, the G2P is not,” Evasco said.
He said the NFA Council was awaiting the recommendation of the National Food Security Committee on how much rice should be imported out of the limit of 250,000 metric tons under a standby authority granted to the grains authority. The panel will meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.
The NFA, upon the order of the Legislative-Executive Advisory Council, is mandated to maintain a rice buffer good for 15 days at any given time, and for 30 days at the onset of the lean months, the period of low or zero harvest.
The country’s daily rice consumption is at 32,720 metric tons or 654,600 bags.
During Monday’s meeting, the NFA Council also approved the importation of 805,000 metric tons of rice under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme this year. The MAV refers to the volume of rice that could be imported at reduced tariffs.
The council likewise directed the NFA management to amend the MAV guidelines to require participating traders to allocate 25 to 30 percent of their quotas to cheaper rice or “25 percent brokens.”
“This way, we are assured that cheap rice will be made available in the local market. This policy shift is more consistent with the President’s pro-poor policy,” Evasco said.
Asked if the NFA Council’s decision was a vindication of a Malacañang undersecretary who was earlier fired by the President for pushing for rice imports, Evasco said: “Well to some extent, it admits that there is really a need for us to import.”
Evasco clarified that the NFA decision did not contradict the President’s earlier statement to defer rice imports. “This is unanimous because the President during the last Cabinet meeting had been given the opportunity to listen to the position of the NFA Council, where there is really a need for us to import. That’s why the President said, since this time, NFA will no longer have the monopoly of importing rice. So we should open importation to (the) private sector,” he said.