Marcos lifts rice price cap, says supply boosters in place
President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Wednesday lifted the government-imposed price ceiling on rice, saying the move was timely as various measures were already being carried out to ensure ample supply and boost production of the staple grain.
“Yes, we are, as of today, lifting the price cap on rice, both for the regular-milled rice and for the well-milled rice,” the President said in a media interview in Lower Bicutan, Taguig City, where he led the distribution of free rice to poor families.
At least 1,000 Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) each received 25 kilos of rice—part of the 42,000 sacks confiscated by the Bureau of Customs in a recent operation in Zamboanga City—during the distribution program.
Executive Order No. 39, which took effect on Sept. 6, set price caps on regular and well-milled rice at P41 and P45 a kilo, respectively, following the “alarming” increase in the retail prices of the grain.
“So we are removing the control but it doesn’t mean that we’ll be leaving it at that because we still need to fix the agricultural sector. We still need to help the poorest, those suffering most from hunger, so that they can pull through somehow,” said the President, who is concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA).
Marcos noted that the declining prices in the domestic market, increasing supply of rice, and favorable external factors such as easing import costs were among the indicators that warranted the lifting of the price cap.
Based on the DA’s monitoring, local regular-milled rice was being sold from P40 to P44 a kilo as of Wednesday, while local well-milled rice was priced at P44 to P48. Imported well-milled rice was selling from P45 to P48.
Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said that they have also seen a notable reduction in the price of rice, noting that some retailers were selling the staple grain at P38 a kilo in Regions 2 and 3.
Aid to the poor
Federation of Free Farmers national manager Raul Montemayor said the lifting of the price cap would encourage farmers to produce more palay since farm-gate prices would stabilize.
“As fresh harvests enter the market, we also expect retail prices of rice to go down without the need for price caps,” Montemayor said.
The President promised to continue providing the assistance that the government has been extending to farmers and the most underprivileged families.
While the government could not control the market, he said his administration would continue carrying out such programs to cushion the impact of rising food prices on the poor and the most vulnerable.
Pascual also said that rice retailers who have yet to receive cash aid from the government due to losses from the implementation of the price cap would still receive financial assistance despite the lifting of the price control measure.
“We will finish (the payout) so it will be fair and so that we can have a level playing field,” Pascual said.
Citing data from the DSWD, the Department of Trade and Industry said that P217.2 million in cash assistance has been released as of Sept. 29 to 14,480 micro and small rice retailers, or 75.5 percent of the government target of 19,685 stores.
On the production side, Marcos said the government would continue to support the agriculture sector and strengthen the country’s value chain.
He said the allotments to farmers from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Funds (RCEF) worth P10 billion have already been appropriated for farm machineries and processing facilities.
The excess collection, which was estimated at more than P12 billion this year, would be allocated to the farm and fisheries sectors by buying general dryers for farmers and cold storage for fishermen.
The President said the government would also be focusing efforts in Metro Manila “because that is where the prices are most volatile and are highest,” and that he would soon pilot a rice assistance for the poor project in coordination with the capital region’s 33 congressmen.
Crackdown to continue
On the government’s drive against smugglers, hoarders and profiteers, the President said his administration would not just sit idly by and vowed to put an end to all illegal activities in the rice market.
In his speech, the President said the government has already filed smuggling charges against rice importers, which he identified as San Pedro Warehouse and Blue Sakura Agri Grain Corp., FS Ostia Rice Mill, and Gold Rice Mill.
He said the companies and their owners were charged with violations of Republic Act No. 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, RA 11203 (rice tariffication law), RA 10845 (Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act), and RA 7581 (Price Act).
“We are in a new Philippines now, and we will suppress those who are not playing fair. There is no room in our society for those who take advantage of and oppress their fellow men,” he said.
Marcos reiterated that the country has no problem regarding rice supply, pointing out that the current buffer stock was for more than 30 days and “is now rising and rising.”
Once the current harvest season ends, he said the reserve could reach as high as 70 days.
“That’s why we really do not have a shortage of rice. We have plenty of supply. But because of these smugglers, hoarders, and price manipulators, the supply is constricted and so the prices increase,” he said.
The President pointed to the rice problem as the reason for his lower performance rating in the September survey of polling firm Pulse Asia Research Inc.
“It’s not surprising. People are having a hard time. I completely understand it,” he said.
“And that’s why we’re working very, very hard to make sure that this [will not happen] again. Not because of the survey—that’s not important to me. What’s important to me is that we make sure that people have enough to eat and that it is affordable to them,” he said.