Saturday, 12 April 2008

Senate ready to assist Palace on rice budget

Fel V. Maragay, Romie A. Evangelista, Roderick T. dela Cruz, Roy Pelovello, Jing Villamente
The Manila Standard

THE Senate is ready to pass a supplemental budget that may be required to support President Arroyo’s new initiative to attain rice sufficiency, Senate President Manuel Villar said yesterday.

He made the statement a week after Mrs. Arroyo declared a P43.7-billion program, called FIELDS, to raise farm productivity to insulate Filipinos from rising food prices.

“The best option for the Executive department is to send a supplemental budget bill to Congress so new funds for new projects can come in and make FIELDS a true program, not an empty acronym,” Villar said.

He said if the P43 billion was not enough to meet the program’s objectives, the Senate would find ways to provide more funds for it.

At the House, Manila Rep. Trishia Bonoan David urged the government to come up with a “poverty map” to make sure cheap government rice went only to those who could not afford commercial rice.

“With a poverty map, the government can ensure that cheap NFA [National Food Authority] rice will only go to the poorest of the poor,” she said.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap ordered the NFA to intensify the distribution of government-subsidized rice to 12 depressed areas.

President Arroyo reminded the Anti-Rice Hoarding Task Force to focus on profiteers instead of suspected smugglers.

“We have liberalized the importation of rice, so we’re barking up the wrong tree if we’re going against smugglers,” she said.

She also made a surprise visit to the National Bureau of Investigation to check if its agents were busy going after rice hoarders and price gougers.

“She just wanted us to intensify our efforts in getting rice hoarders,” NBI Director Nestor Mantaring said.

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