PRESIDENT RODRIGO R. Duterte on Sunday said he will not fire Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol and the officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) despite shortages of low-cost rice stocks in some regions, saying that “(m)aybe the laws are weak or unenforceable; all we have to do is to improve on those laws, not necessarily fire people.”
In an interview with reporters at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) before his flight to Israel on Sunday afternoon, Sept. 2, Mr. Duterte said “all officials… are bound by laws on the matter…[and] there are laws to be followed.”
He added: “And I don’t see any serious offense there. We have not really lost anything except that there’s [an] aberration in the market.”
Last week, Mr. Piñol said in an interview on ANC that the NFA Council should legalize smuggling of rice in order to address the shortage of supply in western Mindanao.
Mr. Duterte said when sought for comment: “The smuggling itself? No, of course not (Mr. Piñol should not be fired). That would be destructive to the economy. You’d put down the market in turmoil. Smuggled rice unrestrained, that would promote disorder in this country.” He also stressed “those smuggled rice have not paid any taxes or tariff.”
As for the rice traders, Mr. Duterte said: “Now, I’m just warning the traders….Do not force me to resort to an emergency measure, because if you do that and time is very limited, I will not allow Filipinos to go hungry.”
For those found hoarding rice, Mr. Duterte said he “will not hesitate to exercise the powers of the President.”
“I will ask the military and the police to raid your warehouses, bodegas. And I will just get your [stocks] — subject of course to just compensation. I can do that and if, I said, you force me, I will,” he also said, reaffirming his threat against rice hoarding in his State of the Nation Address last July.
In a press release last Friday, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) said it “filed criminal charges against the officers of Red Star Rising Corporation and Sta. Rosa Farms for smuggling millions worth of sugar and rice, respectively.” — Arjay L. Balinbin