General Admission

Our endless romance with rice

By Al S. Mendoza


RICE is now the hottest barbershop talk.  Again.

It happens all the time.

Each time there’s scarcity of rice, chaos erupts—almost.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, the Senate’s chair of the agriculture committee, called it as mere “tsismis” (gossip).

Agriculture secretary Manny Pinol called it “fake news.”

If it isn’t a scare, why did the President order the importation of rice?

Some traders started the scare?

Or some NFA (National Food Authority) factotums?

Or, simply, the saboteurs?

Rice traders will benefit outright when rice is scarce.

They make a killing at profits through price manipulation.

They could immediately hoard rice and then unload them when the price gets exorbitantly high.

Some unscrupulous NFA bigwigs could rake it in, too, faster than the fastest draw from the Wild, Wild West.

“I know [the racket],” said Pinol in his press conference on Wednesday .  “When I was young, I was the public relations officer of Region 12’s NFA, which was then known as the NGA (National Grains Authority).”

The saboteurs are either the minions of greedy rice traders or some evil-minded NFA moguls.

Pinol knows them, but his lips are sealed.

Why, because he is not even a member of the NFA’s National Rice Council.

But the biggest irony is that the NFA is not under Pinol’s DA.

It’s like saying the Land Transportation Office is not under Sec. Tugade’s Department of Transportation.

Or the Passport processing not under Sec. Cayetano’s Department of Foreign Affairs.

Or the Philippine Navy not under the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

Isn’t it a folly that while the DA’s sworn duty is to help farmers produce rice, the DA has no control over the NFA—the NFA being the national custodian of rice?

That set-up started under the previous administration.

Also removed by P-Noy from DA’s supervision aside from the NFA are the Irrigation, Coconut and Fertilizer agencies.

It began when then President P-Noy appointed now-senator Kiko Pangilinan co-secretary of Agriculture with Proceso Alcala—a setup as bizarre as Dilangalen’s diction.

That’s why when Pinol appointed me chairman of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) on July 1, 2016, it didn’t materialize.

My appointment drew text messages and calls from friends the morning it was announced in the national dailies.

Even Euclid Forbes, the former PCA chairman, called to say, “You should accept it.  And then appoint me as director as I could help you plot out your plans.”

Even my friend Domeng Duerme, the retired Philippine Airlines vice president for Visayas-Mindanao, was appointed NFA general manager.

Like me, Domeng also stayed in “office” for only one day.

Our tour of duty was null and void from the start as our agencies aren’t under Pinol but under Jun Evasco, the Cabinet secretary.

Meanwhile, Pareng Manny (Pinol) is now selling rice at his DA backyard, starting on Wednesday (Feb. 14).

The NFA, the nation’s rice ruler on paper, sits merely from the sidelines.

What an aberration.

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