Metro Manila, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel on Wednesday questioned the National Food Authority (NFA) over the country’s insufficient rice buffer stock.

“I heard wala tayong buffer stock, isn’t that the function of the NFA?” Pimentel said during Wednesday’s deliberations on the Department of Agriculture’s proposed budget for next year.

The NFA did not specify the current buffer stock, but admitted it was not compliant with the 9-day amount mandated by law.

Aside from maintaining sufficient rice buffer stocks sourced solely from local farmers, the agency must also be capable of managing the country’s buffer stock within the next ten years.

In response, NFA’s Roderick Bioco argued that prices of palay are “too high” during planting season.

He further explained that they already increased their minimum guarantee price from ₱19 to ₱23, but “there was a downward pressure from a very high price” because of the price ceiling on rice.

“Before the start of the season it was ₱30, then it went down below ₱21. That concerned our president,” he said.

Bioco said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. wanted to “play fair” and give farmers a chance to make more money considering the looming El Niño in the succeeding planting season.

“We approved as a council the ₱23 floor price for the farmers,” he added.

Despite the NFA’s efforts, Pimentel still expressed disappointment for its failure to secure the required 9-day buffer stock.

“You must in good faith and through best efforts comply with that mandate,” Pimentel said. “Come closer to the quantity mandated by law.”

Sen. Cynthia Villar—who sponsored the DA budget—said the NFA is given ₱9 billion every year to secure the country’s buffer stock for calamity relief.

The agency, however, has so far utilized only ₱500 million of its budget, according to Villar.