Intensify oversight of NFA Rice Program, legislator urges

Amidst rising concerns over the integrity of the National Food Authority’s (NFA) Rice Buffer Stocking Program, Makati City Representative Luis Campos Jr. has issued a call for stronger congressional oversight.

This call to action follows the Ombudsman’s preventive suspension of 193 senior NFA officials amidst an investigation into the alleged sale of reserves to private traders, a move that threatens the stability of national rice supplies.

“Congress must take strong action to safeguard the buffer stocking program, which is meant to keep an optimal level of rice reserves at all times for use during emergencies, while providing strong buying support to local farmers,” said Campos, emphasizing the program’s dual role in national security and agricultural livelihoods.

The scrutiny falls under the jurisdiction of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization, which Campos trusts to conduct thorough inquiries and create recommendations for increased transparency and accountability.

In a robust show of support for the program, Congress has earmarked P9 billion in the 2024 national budget, matching the allocation from the previous year. Furthermore, an additional P5 billion is allocated for the construction, repair, and rehabilitation of NFA warehouses, demonstrating a commitment to strengthening the nation’s rice security infrastructure.

“We support the forceful measures taken by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr., and Speaker Martin Romualdez to ensure that the buffer stocking program’s supplies are used responsibly,” Campos added.

The buffer stocking program is designed to maintain a ready supply of rice, safeguarding against calamities, unforeseen events, or production shortfalls.

The rice stock is also a key resource for agencies such as the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

By law, all rice for the buffer stock is sourced from local farmers, a stipulation intended to buttress the domestic agricultural sector.

The suspension of NFA officials and the call for stricter oversight have not only stirred the political arena but also resonated deeply with the lives of everyday Filipinos.

Eduardo Reyes, a rice farmer from Iloilo, expressed his concern: “We sell our harvest hoping it would serve the country, especially in times of need. Hearing that it might end up elsewhere is disheartening.”

For consumers like Melanio Lopez from Iloilo City, the potential mismanagement of the rice buffer stock could mean the difference between security and scarcity.

“In times of typhoons or emergencies, that stockpile is what we depend on for affordable rice,” Lopez said. “Knowing it’s there gives us peace of mind.”

The probe into the NFA officials and the response from Congress serve as a critical juncture for the Rice Buffer Stocking Program. As Rep. Campos and his peers advocate for enhanced legislative supervision, the underlying goal remains clear: to protect a service essential to both the welfare of the Filipino farmers and the nation’s food security.

This pursuit of transparency is not isolated to the Philippines. Worldwide, public trust in governmental operations, particularly those as vital as food security, is of paramount concern. As Congress takes steps to intensify scrutiny and safeguard resources, it contributes to a larger global conversation about the efficacy and integrity of such programs.

The ramifications of these political and administrative actions resonate through the paddy fields and the urban centers alike. They paint a picture of a country grappling with the intricacies of governance, accountability, and the unyielding need to nurture the agricultural sector while ensuring the well-being of its people.

Rice trader Joselito Dimaano feels the ripple effect.

“We’re at the end of the chain. If there’s corruption up top, it’s us small businesses and our customers who suffer. We need honesty, so our livelihoods aren’t threatened.”