Gov’t admits failure in rice sufficiency

MANILA — President Benigno Aquino’s promise of rice sufficiency in his last State of the Nation Address cannot be fulfilled in 2013 and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala blames it on the rain.

In a speech at the National Grains Retailers/Wholesalers Conference on Friday, Alcala finally admitted that the Aquino administration cannot fulfill its frequently-repeated promise to the make the country self-sufficient in rice this year.

“We can no longer attain 100 percent self-sufficiency after 2013,” Alcala said. “I am not ashamed to admit that yes, in 2010, we dreamed of becoming self-sufficient after 2013.”

But Central Luzon was struck by Typhoon Santi during the harvest season, he added.

“After Typhoon Santi, we made our assessment and we have to prepare a quick turnaround program for the areas that were hit,” he said.

As late as October, Alcala and other agriculture officials remained optimistic the country could produce about 2.2 million tons of rice by the end of the year.

“[But] we are practical. I have to accept the truth. I am not God. I am only human,” Alcala said.

He said the domestic harvest can cover the usual rice requirements plus 70 days of the 90-day buffer, but the balance of 20 days for the buffer stock will have to be imported.

In fact, he said the government has already sought bids from Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia to provide 500,000 tons because the government’s buffer stock was depleted by Super Typhoon Yolanda earlier this month.

Before Yolanda, the government had wanted to limit imports to 350,000 this year, but so far imports approved by the National Food Authority has so far reached 705,000 tons.

But lawyer Argee Guevarra said Alcala was only “using this calamity as a convenient tool to make kickbacks from government-to-government importation contracts.”

“It is plain palusot [scapegoating] for his part,” Guevarra said in a phone interview, adding that Alcala should resign for misleading the President on the rice self-sufficiency target.

“He knows very well that the country is visited by at least 20 typhoons a year with varying degrees of damage. That should have been inputted in his projection,” the lawyer said.

Guevarra also questioned an alleged P400-million overprice in the contract with Vietnam, a portion of which was covered by a MOLSO provision [More Or Less at Supplier’s Option], and accused Alcala of using Typhoon Santi to justify another round of importation.

Guevarra also doubted Alcala’s claim that the level of rice self-sufficiency will reach 98 percent by the end of the year.

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation also predicted that the country’s rice imports will increase to 1.2 million tons next year because the government will not be able to meet its production forecast of 18.58 million tons.

The FAO said more than $11 million was needed to help clean and clear farmland and irrigation canals after the devastation caused by Yolanda and farmers will need $20 million more for farm