Officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) have failed to commit that last year's crisis on onions, wherein the retail prices of the bulbs reached as high as P720 per kilo, would not be seen for rice this year amid the spike in the cost of the Filipino staple.

During the recent hearing of the House of Representatives committee on appropriations on the DA's proposed budget of P167.5 billion for next year, Marikina 2nd Distict Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo asked officials to make a commitment that there would be no situation for rice similar to December last year, when onion became an expensive commodity.

'What commitment can you give to us as we have remaining funds for 2023, there are available options like (rice) importation… What commitment can you give us to assure our fellow Filipinos that the experience for onions in 2022 will not happen to rice in 2023?' Quimbo asked Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban.

Panganiban did not answer and instead tossed the question to Agriculture Undersecretary for rice industry development Leocadio Sebastian.

Quimbo repeated her question after the DA officials refused to give a categorical answer.

'Nobody wants to commit, afraid… Anyway, Usec (Agriculture Undersecretary for policy, planning and regulations Mercedita) Sombilla said that the thinnest stock is August, (which is) 44 (days); the rest of the months, (the stocks) are going up, so there are (supplies). The way I look at it, you should be ready to commit to us. Usec. Leo (Sebastian) said there is no cartel. Why are you afraid to commit to our people that the experience for onions in 2022 will not happen for rice?' the lawmaker said.

By way of a reply, Sombilla said, 'Actually, for August, we are already expecting something - 150,000 (metric tons of rice imports).'

Quimbo reiterated that she wanted a direct answer from the DA officials.

'(Just a) simple (answer) as it's already getting late in the evening…' the lawmaker reiterated.

Sombilla said that the DA would continue to talk to the private sector.

'The President had already made an instruction to monitor the prices and to also monitor how the traders are getting their stocks out. I think with all of these pronouncements by the President, we will probably be able to secure that amount of rice we need for August and September, before the peak harvest,' she added.

Quimbo then inquired on the commitment of the DA on the retail prices of rice.

'The price… I don't think we can dictate it; it all depends on the world market,' Sombilla replied.

Quimbo lamented the failure of the DA officials to provide a concrete answer on the expected prices of the grains.

Sombilla eventually provided a forecast wherein she said that the retail price of rice is expected to go down to as low as P45 per kilo once the peak harvest season starts in October.

'We expect local prices to be on the level of P45, P47, P50 for premium and special rice. Hopefully, with the coming of the harvest season, we would probably expect it to level off to lower prices,' she said.

Data from the DA showed that retail prices of local regular-milled rice ranged between P36 and P44 per kilo a month ago compared to the latest prevailing price of P55 per kilo or a difference of P11 per kilo.

Retail prices of local well-milled rice a month ago ranged between P40 and P49 per kilo, compared to the latest price of P57 per kilo or a difference of P8 per kilo.

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