Official statement by Manny Pi├▒ol

Secretary, Dept. of Agriculture

In the peace and quiet of my farm in Kidapawan City, Cotabato, I was bombarded today with text messages from concerned friends and inquisitive journalists asking for my reaction to the allegations of a dismissed Malaca├▒ang Undersecretary that I am conniving with the National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator "to create an artificial shortage" to justify the importation of rice by the agency.

I would have wanted to stay out of this controversy and just focus on my work but since I have been dragged into this controversy, for the simple reason that during the media briefing in Talavera, Nueva Ecija I identified the dismissed official in response to reporters' question, I believe I should share with the public my personal and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries' position on the issue.

1. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has publicly declared that it is against the immediate lifting of the Quantitative Restriction (QR) on imported rice on the ground the the Filipino Rice Farmers are not yet ready to compete with their counterparts in the region because of low productivity and high production cost. The Department is asking for a reprieve of two more years because of the firm belief that in two years we will be able to provide more irrigation services, hybrid seeds, machineries and post-harvest facilities and easy access financing to our farmers to make them competitive. This position simply means I AND THE DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES AND OUR STAKEHOLDERS ARE AGAINST THE UNREGULATED ENTRY OF IMPORTED RICE.

2. I have personally recommended to President Rody Duterte, specifically during his visit to the Rice Harvest in Barangay Tabacao, Talavera, Nueva Ecija on April 5 that the additional importation of rice either by the NFA as pushed by Administrator Jason Aquino or the Private Sector as endorsed by the NFA Council under Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Jr., be suspended because of the record harvest of paddy rice in the First Quarter of 2017. For the first time in the history of the country, the national average yield per hectare is now at 4.15 metric tons per harvest, up from 3.9-metric tons. The First Quarter harvest is also 210,000-metric tons more than the same period last year. It is the position of the Department and mine as well that any importation at this time will result in the collapse of the buying price of paddy rice to the disadvantage of the farmers. In fact, I publicly proposed that NFA instead buy the produce of the farmers this season if its intention is to stock up buffer rice stocks.

3. Although by law, the Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries is supposed to sit in the NFA Council, I have not been invited to the meetings of the Council and I attended the meeting only once early in my assumption as Secretary of Agriculture. The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and I, as Secretary of Agriculture, do not participate in the decision-making on whether to import or not and when to import. But since it will be the Filipino rice farmers who will be affected by the decision, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries from time to time shares its views on the issue. That is definitely not meddling with the functions of an agency that is not under the DAF but simply performing our functions as a department involved in producing food and protecting the farmers and fishermen.

4. I do not have any quarrel neither am I siding with either Sec. Evasco or Administrator Aquino. I am against the position of Sec. Evasco that the private sector be allowed to import rice now not only as it will affect the prices of local paddy rice but also because most of the private sector importers are also traders who play with the rice market once they have the imported stocks. I also do not agree with the proposal of Administrator Aquino that NFA should import rice for its buffer stocks now because of the bountiful harvest during the First Quarter of 2017. Instead, I am proposing that the NFA buys the local produce of the farmer to protect them from being manipulated by the rice traders instead of bringing in imported rice.

5. The differences that I have with Sec. Evasco and Adm. Aquino on the issue of importing rice by the private sector or the NFA do not mean that I have a quarrel with them. I am just embracing the position of the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on the issue of the QR and the rice importation based on the sentiments of the country's rice farmers during the national consultations conducted late last year.

Now, please reconcile this position to the claim of the dismissed Undersecretary that I am conniving with others to "create an artificial shortage" to justify the rice importation.

Ayaw ko nga mag-import dahil sagana ang ani ngayon!

Where's the logic?

To those who are trying to drag me into a quarrel with other officials of this administration, you will fail in your attempt.

I don't fight petty quarrels. I have a bigger battle in front of me and that is the fight against poverty and hunger in the country.

This is the fight that I will focus on.

Sa inyo na lang yang away bata. Di ako mahilig dyan.

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