The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday signaled a possible crackdown on rice hoarders, who are suspected because rice prices at retail are not drifting lower in line with the plunge in farmgate prices for palay, or unmilled rice.

“Even before the enactment of the Rice Tariffication Law, ‘di ba mayroon nang pagbaba ng palay prices? (wasn’t there a drop in palay prices?) So, may nagsasamantala (some are taking advantage) and we see to it that we will apply the full force of the law on hoarders — if we feel there is hoarding,” Agriculture Acting Secretary William D. Dar said in an economic briefing at the Palace on Wednesday.

The Rice Tariffication Law, or Republic Act (RA) 11203 removes the rice importing function of the National Food Authority (NFA) and allows the expansion of the private sector’s role in the import market. Shipments from within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are to be charged tariffs of 35%. The National Economic and Development Authority has said that with this law, rice prices could fall below the P27 per kilogram selling price of NFA rice.

At the same briefing, Trade Assistant Secretary Ann Claire C. Cabochan said that as of the second week of August, the prevailing price of regular milled rice was P35.00 per kilo, well-milled rice P40.00, premium rice P46.50, and special rice P50.00.

“NFA rice on the other hand remains (at) P27.00 per kilo for regular-milled and P32.00 for well-milled,” she added.

Mr. Dar said the DA will be working with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to address hoarding.

“We are partnering with them para makita iyong presyo sa merkado. At kung talagang may problema ay gagalaw po ang gobyerno (to monitor market prices. If there really is a problem, the government will act),” he said.

“We know who they are. We have a list. So papasyalan namin, siguro puwede bang magkape muna (we will visit them and maybe have coffee), then aalamin po natin bakit hindi sila naglalabas (We hope to find out why they’re not bringing out inventory). Then we have to encourage them to really bring out more of these stocks,” he added.

Mr. Dar also said the DA is targeting to release this week the implementing rules and regulation (IRR) of the Sagip Saka Act, or RA 11321, which exempts local governments from procurement rules when buying agriculture products directly from producers.

“This will be very important in tandem with the implementation with the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund,” he said. “So we are in the final stage of looking at the draft IRR. And I’ll see to it that this will be out this week.”

Mr. Dar said his department expects to forge an agreement with the Department of Social Welfare and Development on converting the P600 rice subsidy of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) beneficiaries to rice, noting that tapping the subsidy will help farmers affected by the implementation of the rice tarrification law.

“We are at (the final) stage of discussions at nagsa-suggest sila na mag-MoA (memorandum of agreement) na kami (and the DSWD proposed an MoA),” he said. “Well, hopefully by October ay ayos na po iyon (We hope to have a deal by October).” — Arjay L. Balinbin