PRICES of rice in the local markets are seen to further drop as suggested retail prices (SRPs) for the commodity will take effect in Negros Occidental starting November 5 this year.
This was announced by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, also the chairman of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, who was in the province on Friday, October 26, to visit the wake of the victims of "Sagay 9" massacre in Sagay City.
Piñol, in an interview at RU Foundry in Bacolod City, said they are finalizing the guidelines for the implementation of SRPs for rice in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental.
He said retailers have to follow the SRPs as there are penal provisions for its implementation.
In Metro Manila, for instance, SRPs for imported well-milled rice is P39 per kilogram.
For premium imported rice, the cost should not be higher than P43 per kilogram, which is the same rice sold for P65 to P68 per kilogram a month ago.
In terms of local rice, the SRPs among markets in Metro Manila are P39 for regular milled, P44 for well-milled, and P47 per kilogram for premium rice.
"Though SRPs in Metro Manila will serve as a basis, there will be a separate regional SRPs for Negros Occidental which will depend on the cost structure analysis," he said, adding that figures are not constant "it may be lower or higher depending on the transport cost."
The Agriculture Secretary, who also made a visit at the Rice Processing Complex at Barangay Tabunan in Bago City, presented other "reforms" they want to achieve through the SRP program.
Under which, the imported rice will be properly identified like as imported Thailand or imported Vietnam where consumers are sometimes fooled by the retailers by setting unjust prices.
There will be no more "misleading names" like Sinandomeng, Super Angelica, and Mindoro Dinorado, among others, in the market.
Special rice, meanwhile, will not be covered by the SRPs. These include organic, brown, red, black, and glutinous rice.
"Special rice is like luxury items thus, people who would want this kind of rice should pay more. If they want cheaper rice, we have our P27 and P32 per kilogram NFA rice," Piñol said.
To ensure compliance, Piñol said the monitoring will be conducted by the NFA, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and even the Philippine National Police.
"Violation of any of the provisions or guidelines tantamounts to imprisonment for four months up to four years," Piñol said.
This is on top of cancelation of license in engaging in grains trading and penalty of P2,000 to P1 million for overpricing, he added.
Aside from rice, the government will also implement SRPs on sugar which may take effect starting next week.
Piñol said they are discussing it now, and they do not want to set an SRP that would result in the lowering the millgate prices of the product.
Amid apprehension of local producers that millgate prices would decrease due to SRPs plus importation, Piñol said they will set an SRP but on the level where the farmers will be protected.
"It won't happen," he said, adding that "I am in a difficult balancing task as I have to protect the farmers at the same time make sure that consumers are not hurt."
Piñol was accompanied by Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr. when the former met the bereaved families of the brutal killings in Sagay City.
Piñol said he had discussed with the governor several things amid critical issues hounding the agriculture industry now.
He told the governor that there is a need to increase production as the supply of rice in the world market would be very tight next year.
Farmers should not be afraid of rice importation because by next year China is expected to access the available rice supply in the market so there would be a tight situation, Piñol said.
"Thus, I suggested that the governor should consider claiming the distinction of being the first province to implement a provincial government-supported rice production program," he added.
Piñol is pushing for a seed production farm that will introduce one or two varieties in Negros Occidental.
According to him, there are local inbred varieties developed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) which, if developed by the province, would increase its production making it as rice self-sufficient in just one or two harvest seasons.
"With 60,000 hectares of rice areas, the province just needs to use high yielding varieties," he said, stressing that using one or two varieties is also advantageous in terms of milling and drying.
Moreover, the DA chief has assured that the NFA has enough fund allocated for its palay procurement program.
Under which, the agency will provide an additional P3 per kilogram Buffer Stocking Incentive (BSI) on top of other existing incentives of P0.70 and basic buying price of palay at P17 per kilogram.
Piñol said he already directed NFA-Negros Occident provincial manager Frisco Canoy to start the procurement operations here.
Farmers he said should not fear even the government would want to import next year.
"Local procurement is one of our strategies," Piñol said, adding that there is going to be a shortage of rice, maybe five years from now "so this very early we have to tweak a beat our rice production program."
The Agriculture Secretary, meanwhile, apologized to the public "especially those who have experienced sadness over rice woes for several months."
Piñol reiterated that significant surge in the prices of rice was a problem created by a blunder.
He said they are trying to straighten things out. In fact, he already moved for the importation of rice by this time to make NFA, the stabilizer, more present in the market.
"Although it is not my doing, I apologized. We learned from our mistakes so it will not happen again, I promise you that," the official added. (EPN)