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Batanes out of rice; government to distribute smuggled rice

Batanes out of rice; government to distribute smuggled rice

BASCO – The Ivatans, residents of the northernmost region in the country, are running out of rice and food supplies following the spate of bad weather in the area.

The National Food Authority (NFA) warehouse here had less than 200 bags of rice left for distribution. At 100 bags consumption a day, the stocks may not last until weekend.

The supply of commercial rice is dwindling faster than expected. Yesterday, commercial establishments engaged in grains distribution had only 500 bags in storage.

With the cheaper rice disappearing from government retail outlets, ordinary residents were forced to buy the more expensive commercial stocks.

While typhoons that passed near the islands may have contributed to the unusual grains situation, observers said the squabble among authorities in the national level might be the root cause of the shortage.

“Had the National Food Council and NFA immediately authorized the importation of rice, we would not have suffered rice shortage,” a retailer said.

The M/V Everwin Star II that has been loaded with 3,000 bags of government rice three weeks ago cannot leave the Port of Manila because of big waves in the western seaboard of Luzon.

For the sixth time, it is scheduled to leave Manila later today, weather permitting.

NFA manager Philip Rumbaoa said the province was enjoying a surplus of rice stocks from February until June. The delay in deliveries caused by the spate of bad weather, however, forced them to limit the allocation of rice to retailers.

While admitting there is still plenty of rice in the government warehouse, Rumbaoa said these are emergency stocks.

“We do not want to be caught flat-footed in case of any eventuality,” Rumbaoa said.

Malacañang has given assurance the government is working to increase the supply of rice to address the rising price of the staple.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government would strictly monitor the distribution of NFA rice to ensure that they are sold in public markets to avoid a repeat of the supply issues, particularly in Mindanao.

Roque said the problem lies not in the quantity of rice being imported but the way the staple is distributed.

The local government of Zamboanga City previously declared a state of calamity after rice prices went up to P50 to P70 per kilo because of lack of supply.

The agriculture department opened stores selling cheap rice to stabilize prices and to address the supply problem.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has said the higher rice prices in Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were caused by rice smuggling.

The state of calamity declaration was lifted last week.

As concerns were raised about the availability of rice in some areas, reports about the infestation of weevils in more than 130,000 sacks of rice from Thailand surfaced, prompting some lawmakers to call for an investigation.

The NFA has attributed the infestation to the delay in the unloading of the rice from ships in Subic Bay.