A PARTY-LIST legislator representing farmers said Thursday that he is seeking investigations into rice industry cartels as well the outbreak of African Swine Fever (ASF) in some hog farms on Luzon.
Magsasaka Party-list Rep. Argel T. Cabatbat filed House Resolutions No. 332 and 336 which directs the Committee on Agriculture and Food to probe allegations of rice smuggling and the ASF outbreak.
Mr. Cabatbat said Republic Act No. 1123 or the Rice Tariffication Law has encouraged hoarding, smuggling and price manipulation by rice traders.
“Laganap pa rin ang smuggling and under-declaration (Smuggling and under-declaration of import values is still rampant). Nalulugi ang gobyerno sa tax at nahihirapan ang mga magsasaka (the government is not collecting the correct taxes and farmers are suffering)… hindi rin naman nakikinabang ang mga consumer kasi di rin naman bumaba ang presyo ng bigas (consumers are not benefiting from imports because rice prices have not fallen),” Mr. Cabatbat said at a briefing.
He called on the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to lead the rice investigation.
“Ang batas na nagbubuo ng Philippine Competition Commission, hindi nila kailangan ng may magrereklamo para maibestigahan nila (The law allows the PCC to investigate even without the filing of a complaint),” he said.
Separately, 53 legislators filed a resolution seeking a P15-billion supplemental budget for the National Food Authority (NFA) to boost its purchasing activity at P20 per kilogram, citing “the dire impacts of the Rice Tariffication Law.”
House Joint Resolution No. 18 directs the NFA to procure at least 750,000 metric tons of unmilled rice or palay from farmers at P20 per kilo farm gate price, and sell NFA rice to consumers at P27 per kilo.
Until recently, the NFA’s purchasing price for palay was P17 plus incentives, which include payments to cooperatives selling palay to the NFA. This was recently raised to P19 while eliminating the incentives.
The NFA serves as a buyer of last resort for farmers who are typically bargained down by rice traders, though its funds are insufficient to buy the entire harvest at the support price.
Mr. Cabatbat also alleged that the ASF outbreak may have been caused smuggling.
“Nagkaroon tayo ng pork ban sa mga bansang tinamaan nito. So logically, di na dapat ito makakapasok sa atin… (We banned pork from ASF-affected countries, so logically, the disease should not have been able to enter) Kaya pinagdududahan namin ang smuggling na dahilan kung bakit nakapasok ang African Swine Fever (that is why we suspect smuggling is behind the entry of ASF),” Mr. Cabatbat said.
Mr. Cabatbat said that he is hoping that the House inquiry can start next week adding that he will support additional funding for the DA to aid in the ASF containment effort.
The proposed DA budget for 2020 is P54.431 billion. — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras