"What will be the next move of the administration on this gut issue?"
With the recent move of the Department of Agriculture to flood the market with cheap rice, the government should really run after importers and traders suspected of hoarding our staple food.
Agriculture Secretary Willian Dar is furious and wants criminal cases to be filed against rice traders who are taking undue advantage of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and manipulating farmgate prices of rice to make a killing. He is asking law enforcers to cooperate closely with various government agencies in the campaign to ferret out suspected rice hoarders. Hoarding by some traders is believed to have caused the drop in the price of palay.
According to the agriculture chief, certain millers and traders are using the implementation of the RTL as a convenient excuse to hoard the staple grain: “Isn’t it that there is already a drop in the price of palay even before the inaction of the rice tariffication law? So, someone is taking advantage.”
In a recent Senate hearing, Senator Cynthia Villar could not hide her exasperation over the government's failure to stop cartels and hoarding, which she cited as the reasons for the artificial shortage and high prices of rice and other agricultural products.
“Our farmers and fisherfolk continue to suffer in poverty while smugglers and cartels continue to enrich themselves,” Villar lamented.
“We're aware that there are indeed rice cartels. We are urging the Department of Justice and the Philippine Competition Commission to make an example of even just one cartel to show that we are going to implement the law,” Villar said.
Members of the Senate agriculture and food committee also discovered that the NFA is hoarding four million sacks of imported rice in its warehouses.
RA 11203, which was signed into law in February, liberalized rice importation in the country and is intended to solve the worsening rice shortage in the country.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said the Department of Justice (DoJ) should study the filing of cases of economic sabotage, profiteering and price manipulation against abusive traders.
In November last year, the DOJ indicted alleged rice smuggler Davidson Bangayan, also known as David Tan, for rice trade monopoly.
Bangayan was charged with violation of Paragraph 3, Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) which penalizes trade monopoly with imprisonment of 6 months to 6 years plus fines.
Bangayan is accused of “combining with and employing the concerned farmers’ cooperatives and organizations to participate in the bidding of rice importations with the intention of manipulating and increasing the market price of the supply.”
Indicted along with Bangayan for monopoly of trade are Elizabeth Faustino, David and Judilyne Lim, Eleanor Rodriguez, and Leah Echeveria.
The DOJ said witnesses pointed to Bangayan and Faustino as the financiers of cooperatives, with Faustino acting as the broker “so that the concerned entities may be allowed to participate in the bidding for rice procurement.”
Salceda said the rice market anomalies could be addressed through intensified monitoring by the DA, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) to include heavy importers, import records and warehousing receipts with focus on possible restraint of trade amounting to price manipulation and difference between farmgate prices as reported by the PSA.
According to the PSA, as of the second week of August palay, prices had gone down to as low as P8 to P10.
Salceda said the DTI may also invoke Executive Order 913, which grants it adjudicatory powers to protect consumers from profiteering and price manipulation. “The President, by virtue of his powers and the overwhelming and continued support of the Filipino people, is uniquely empowered to implement the aforementioned recommendations,” the lawmaker said.
“We can go after them in terms of damages, we can go after them in terms of economic sabotage, because it is national in character,” Salceda said.
The Albay lawmaker urges the government to carry out “resolute expressions of [its] firmness in combating rice cartels.” He wants the National Food Authority to be allowed to borrow funds to triple its current buying operations from P7.5 billion to P22.5 billion. He has rejected proposals to repeal or amend the rice tariffication law because it remains a “good law.”
What we need here, from where we sit, is a win-win solution for rice farmers and consumers. So what will be the next move of the administration on this gut issue?