Villar: Public anger to force admin action on agriculture execs
Should heads roll for the rice crisis currently besetting the country?
Public anger over soaring rice prices shouldn’t be ignored, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate agriculture and food committee, said at the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Tuesday.
Asked if she thought officials should be fired to solve the rice supply problem faster, Villar said people’s anger might spur authorities to take action.
“Maybe public opinion will force them to do it,” she said.
“If I were them, with this kind of public opinion, I have to do something. If they don’t do it in spite of this public opinion, there’s something wrong,” she added.
Villar believes the government will do what it has to do.
She said it was not her habit to call for the resignation of officials as she did not want to make issues personal.
This was the case with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, with whom she had tussled over issues concerning the country’s food supply.
“It’s the option of the President. Me, I have to work with him well. Because if I pick a fight with him every day, we will not accomplish anything,” she said.
If she can’t get the administration to do something, her style is to do it herself to show authorities that it is possible, the senator said.
But in the case of the country’s rice problem, Villar said what needed to be done was spur traders to sell their supply but impose price ceilings.
The country has no shortage of rice, she said. The problem is most of it was in the hands of the traders.
“I don’t think we never understood the system. There’s a rice cartel, garlic cartel, onion cartel,’’ she said. “So it’s our responsibility to stop them from being too greedy.”
Opposition lawmakers have blamed the National Food Authority (NFA) for failing to do its duty to provide affordable rice to Filipinos and have been calling for its administrator, Jason Aquino, to be sacked.
Villar herself earlier said the NFA had failed to fulfill its mandate.
At the Inquirer forum, she said the NFA did not buy rice for its buffer stock from farmers during the harvest season.
The NFA said this was because the moisture content of palay (unhusked rice) was high, but she did not think this was a good enough reason. “If you really want to help the farmers, the moisture content should not be an issue.”
Because of this, the farmers were placed at the mercy of private traders, she said.
Villar said the government had to convince traders now to bring out their rice supply and sell it at a price “as reasonable as possible.”
To do this, it must impose a price cap, she said.
“If all your supply is in the hands of the traders, of course the traders will want to maximize the profit,” she said.
“You can’t stop the traders if they want to make money. What you can do is to impose a price ceiling,” she added.
This would allow traders to earn, but not at exorbitant rates, she said.
Earlier, Zamboanga City declared a state of calamity as prices of the country’s staple soared to P70 a kilogram. In Tawi-Tawi, which also declared a state of calamity, a kilo of commercial rice has risen in price up to P80 a kilo.
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