ROSALES, Pangasinan—After the smuggling of pork and chicken has eased, unscrupulous businessmen have shifted to bring in rice illegally, prompting local rice traders, millers and farmers to appeal to the government to act decisively to stop the activity.
Rosendo So, chair of the partylist group Abono, said rampant rice smuggling had resulted in lower demand and decline in the prices of locally grown rice.
He said Congress had noted the public perception that the country has become a “center of rice smuggling,” with illegal shipments of Indian and Vietnamese rice held at the Subic Bay Freeport and the port of Legazpi City last year.
Citing documents from the Bureau of Customs, So said the smuggling of rice, mostly from China, had also been reported in ports in Mindanao and the Visayas, where the staple is misdeclared slag (waste metal), wooden panels, tiles or used clothes.
“The smuggled rice [unloaded] in Mindanao and Cebu are repacked and taken to Metro Manila and Bulacan markets, where they are marketed as local produce. But we all know that Cebu does not produce rice, so where do those rice shipments come from?” said So, who owns rice and corn farms and runs a fertilizer distribution firm in Pangasinan.
Because of rampant rice smuggling, farmers fear that prices for locally produced grains would drop further. “Millers are not buying because they cannot compete with the sheer volume of smuggled rice that has been flooding the market,” So said.
He said he and Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce “Jack” Enrile Jr. met recently with a group of rice traders, millers and farmers, who complained that unabated rice smuggling was gravely affecting their businesses and production.
Sacks of smuggled rice entering the country through Mindanao are reportedly shipped to Luzon and sold by unscrupulous traders for P1,200 a sack, way below the prevailing price of P1,400 for locally milled grains.
If the government fails to immediately stop rice smuggling, local traders and millers would be forced not to buy palay (unhusked or unmilled rice) that would be harvested by farmers this summer due to lower market demand, he said.
“Traders and millers have complained that they cannot compete with unscrupulous traders. Worse, they cannot buy palay at P17.50 a kilogram this coming harvest time because they still have plenty of rice stocks, which they bought last season. So, who will now buy palay harvested by our farmers?” So said.
“And if the prices of rice would continue to plunge, certainly, local rice production will collapse,” he said. Yolanda Sotelo, Inquirer Northern Luzon