President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday ordered a whole-of-government campaign to stamp out the “weevils” in the country’s agricultural sector, directing all agencies and officials to strictly implement policies and laws to stop the smuggling and hoarding of rice.
President Marcos, who is also the concurrent Agriculture secretary, made his remarks during the rice distribution in San Andres, Manila, where he called rice smugglers and hoarders “weevils” that destroy the balance in the rice supply.
“The weevil that completely destroys the balance of supply and price of rice in the market is hoarding, smuggling, and price manipulation done by exploitative traders,” he said in Filipino.
“This is no longer acceptable. That’s why I’m instructing all officials, authorities, and agencies to enforce policies and laws regarding rice issues strictly,” he added.
Marcos acknowledged that stopping rice smugglers and hoarders would not be easy, since they have been operating in the country for so long.
However, he assured the public the country has an adequate supply of rice.
“As I mentioned when we distributed rice in Camarines Sur the other day. The rice supply here in the Philippines is sufficient. What is needed is proper management of its production and sale,” he said.
President Marcos led the distribution of rice to 1,000 beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), with each beneficiary receiving 25 kilograms of rice.
The 1,000 sacks of rice distributed were part of the 42,180 sacks seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in an operation in Zamboanga City, which was eventually donated to the DSWD after the importers failed to prove the legality of their importation.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives approved on second reading a measure that imposes a life sentence as the maximum penalty for hoarders and price manipulators
The measure will put more teeth into existing laws against agricultural smuggling, Speaker Martin Romualdez said.
“We want to send a chilling effect on these cartels that have been operating for decades now. We really mean business this time. And our primary task here is to protect the welfare of the masses – provide them with the most affordable goods in the market,” he said.
The new bill classifies smuggling of rice and other agricultural products as “economic sabotage.”
The House committee on agriculture and food headed by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, endorsed for plenary approval the proposed agricultural economic sabotage law on Sept. 20.
Last week, Romualdez said that the measure, part of the 20 bills listed by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council for passage this December, will be approved on third and final reading before Congress goes on recess on Sept. 30.
Romualdez said once the measure becomes a law, it would protect farmers and fishermen from smugglers, especially in times when prices are manipulated and agricultural products are hoarded.
Also on Tuesday, President Marcos told the National Food Authority (NFA) to follow his lead as he vowed to give priority to agricultural modernization to ensure enough rice supply for the country.
Meanwhile, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) urged the public to report rice retailers who marked up their prices after inspectors leave their area.