AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol on Friday flagged the problem of rice hoarding in the country, saying he is set to issue an order to help clamp down on this practice.
In a related development, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) on Friday filed criminal charges against officers of Red Star Rising Corporation and Sta. Rosa Farms for smuggling millions worth of sugar and rice, respectively.
In a press briefing on Friday, Mr. Piñol said, “The law of supply and demand in the country is not the supply provided by the farmers and the producers but the supply concentrated on the hands of the monied…traders who buy from the farmers, control the stocks, and therefore hold on to the supply and control the price of the supply in the market.”
The agriculture chief also said he will issue an administrative order in line with a “Report a Hoarder” program which will provide a reward of P50,000 to whoever can report rice hoarders to the DA and an additional P200,000 once this information is confirmed.
For his part, NFA Administrator Jason L.Y. Aquino said in a statement, “The price of rice in the market is very precarious right now, that is why we have to more than double our effort. Some traders will surely try to make greater profit from the rice situation that we have, but we will not allow it to happen.”
“With the formation of (a) TWG (technical working group) to work closely with the different enforcement agencies, we hope that we can finally stop any moves of some people or groups to control the rice trade,” Mr. Aquino added.
In an interview with The Chiefs in One News, Mr. Piñol also flagged the “very tight” rice situation next year, with China expected to import five percent of its requirement amounting to 15 million metric tons (MMT).
“Next year, very tight ang rice situation because China is importing about five percent of its requirement. That’s 15 million metric tons,” he said in the talk show.
SMUGGLING CHARGES
Charged on Friday by the BoC were the responsible officers of consignee, Red Star Rising Corporation — Dante P. Lunar, Leonardo C. Mallari, Richel Paranete Llanes, August Presillas Templado, and Bernie Abrina Rubia.
They were accused of violations of Section 1401 (unlawful importation) in relation to Section 117 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act and Section 3 of R.A. No. 10845 (An Act Declaring Large-Scale Agricultural Smuggling as Economic Sabotage).
In a statement, the bureau said the accused “unlawfully import(ed) white sugar into the country with an aggregate value, including duties and taxes, of…P21,558,561.00.”
The bureau also said: “The three shipments of Red Star (were) composed of a total of sixteen twenty-footer containers, and were described in the manifests as containing packaging materials, kitchen utensils, and kraft paper. The shipments from Thailand arrived at the Port of Manila on different dates in July 2018. Upon inspection and physical examination, the shipment were discovered to contain white sugar. The shipments also lacked the required import permit from the Sugar Regulatory Administration.”
Similarly charged were “the responsible officers of Sta. Rosa Farms, namely Jomerito S. Soliman, Dolores Opancia, Mary Grace D. Cayanan, Marileen S. Avañez, and its Licensed Customs Broker, Diosdado M. Santiago.”
BoC said the accused imported 50,000 sacks of rice with a total value of P120.7 million, without the requisite import permit.
ON ABOLISHING NFA
For her part, Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on Friday said she is open to “eventually” abolishing the National Food Authority over concerns on rice supply.
“At this point, maybe eventually. At this point in time, they have to import and when we tariffy importation then maybe NFA can be abolished because then it will be liberalized,” Ms. Arroyo told reporters in an ambush interview.
“It can stay, it can go. To me, I’m neither here nor there in that situation but right the more important thing is to be able to import rice and make it arrive before October,” she added.
Ms. Arroyo also shared Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez’s proposal to relax import restrictions on fish and meat as among the measures to manage inflation.
“According to the tariff and related matters of Sec. Lopez, he said, instead of reducing the tariff on fish which is already very low, they will relax the import restrictions on fish, the non-tariff barriers,” Ms. Arroyo said.
Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. announced the NFA Council will authorize importation beyond the minimum access volume (MAV), which is currently at 805,200 metric tons of rice.
“The NFA Council will therefore allow further importation of rice by the private sector. We ask the cooperation of the NFA Administration in this regard,” Mr. Roque said in a Palace press briefing, Friday.
He said importing rice through the private sector is much faster and is likely to reduce corrupt practices. “Patungo na naman talaga tayo doon dahil iyong rice tariffication na na-approve na ng Mababang Kapulungan. Inaasahan na rin nating maaprubahan sa Senado,” Mr. Roque said in part. (We’re already heading there because rice tariffication has been approved by the Lower House. We await the Senate’s approval.)
Mr. Piñol, in his interview with The Chiefs, said, “I am not in favor. There are proposals to abolish NFA. Did you know that NFA is the only WTO (World Trade Organization)-acknowledged and -recognized trading agency in the Philippines. The NFA refomed could actually be the trading agency in the country.” — with reports by Charmaine A. Tadalan and Reicelene Joy Ignacio