GMA to cut middlemen to distribute rice directly

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Arroyo said the government may distribute rice from its stockpile directly to the poor because traders are inflating prices.

“We are toying with the idea of stopping the release of National Food Authority rice through the public markets,” Mrs. Arroyo said in a speech in Abra.

The state agency supplies as much as 17 percent of the nation’s rice, Administrator Jessup Navarro said yesterday.

The Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, expects to buy 2.7 million tons of the grain from abroad this year, two- fifths more than last year, while vowing to step up efforts against hoarding and overpricing.

Mrs. Arroyo this week said she would be “leading the charge” against people “stealing rice from the people.”

Rice futures rose to a record this week as exporters including Vietnam, the Philippines’ biggest supplier, cut shipments to meet local demand and curb inflation.

The US Ambassador to Manila on Wednesday said the US would supply the Philippines with rice.

Supplying subsidized rice may have become too expensive for the government, forcing it to restrict sales to the poorest areas of the country, said Teresa Alegado, president of the Confederation of Grain Retailers of the Philippines.

The state-run NFA had a net loss of P1.27 billion last year, narrowing from a P10.97-billion loss in 2006, according to government data.

Mrs. Arroyo said the government might stop selling its rice through traders because of “the temptation” for them to raise prices of the subsidized grain. Local governments may distribute the rice with the help of religious groups, she said.

Local government officials may favor supporters in the distribution of rice, said Alegado of the grain retail association.

She said she had also received reports that local governments have distributed less rice than promised, raising concern about hoarding.