DA warns traders on rice hoarding
Traders who create a rice shortage may have to open their warehouses for inspection and face charges of economic sabotage if they are found hoarding the staple, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said on Monday.
Piñol issued the warning amid reports from some sectors of a looming rice shortage and rising prices if President Duterte would not allow the importation of rice, especially during harvest season.
“[T]he moment I sense that there is an attempt on the part of rice traders to create a rice shortage I will recommend to the President the creation of a task force that would open up and inspect all warehouses all over the country and those found hoarding rice should be charged with economic sabotage,” Piñol said.
After attending a Senate hearing, Piñol reiterated that the Department of Agriculture was not against rice importation as the country still had a shortfall of 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons (MT) every year despite an expected record harvest of 4.14 million MT in the first quarter.
But he said he had told the President that rice importation should not be timed during peak harvest as this would bring down the price of palay (paddy rice) and thus, mean low earnings for local farmers.
Piñol said groups saying there was a rice shortage were “fooling the Filipino people,” noting that in February, the private sector already brought in 650,000 MT of rice and the National Food Authority (NFA), 250,000 MT.
Farmers are requesting the deferment of rice importation until after harvest time and according to Piñol, the government can import rice when there is a need for it.
He also dismissed a US-based think tank report that inflation would rise with the no-rice importation policy. “How can a temporary deferment of importation cause inflation?” he asked.
The agriculture secretary insisted that his department was “sure” of its numbers, which he said were based on satellite data.
Piñol said if the NFA wanted to stock rice, he suggested that it procure palay, as this could be stored for over a year. In contrast, rice grains can go bad after six months in storage, he said.
But the NFA said it may not be able to buy more palay as private traders were offering farmers higher prices.
Any rice shortfall, Piñol said, could be covered by the minimum access volume (the volume of rice allowed to be imported with a corresponding tariff as part of the government’s commitment to the World Trade Organization).
Piñol has been accused of meddling in the rice importation program, the province of the multiagency NFA Council, which is chaired by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco Jr.
The accusation came as NFA Administrator Jason Aquino defied the NFA Council recommendation that any rice importation be done by the private sector. Aquino has insisted on a government-to-government importation of rice to replenish the country’s rice stocks for the lean months even as this would further bloat the NFA debt.
Former Undersecretary Halmen Valdez of the Office of the Cabinet Secretary said that despite the NFA Council decision not to import rice because of an expected bumper harvest, Aquino went straight to Mr. Duterte requesting that the government-to-government importation be allowed.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.