Campaign versus rice cartels should never stop
Starting today, price ceilings will take effect. Regular milled rice will be pegged at P41/kilo and well milled rice at P45/kilo, as ordered by the President, who is also the concurrent Agriculture Secretary in his Executive Order number 39.
To my mind, this is clearly a very bold move and a direct challenge to the powerful cartels, which for time immemorial, already controls 45 percent of rice procurement and 85 percent of its sales and distribution. These unscrupulous traders can dictate the dynamics of local rice pricing, including its marketing and milling costs. They buy farmers’ produce very cheap and then impose high marketing rates. With the enactment of the Rice Tariffication Law, they have been quietly importing and filling up their warehouses. At the start, they were tame in increasing retail prices, perhaps, not to rock the boat too early.
Last year, these private traders imported about 3.8 million MT of rice from Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand. By March this year, they “reduced” their importations by 16.20 percent year on year. Some reasoned Vietnam increased its prices by $100 per metric ton or now at $600 but turns out Vietnam is just 18 percent of total import, so the reason really doesn’t fly.
The Department of Agriculture says we have enough rice supply until the end of the year. For the second half, this will reach 10.15 million MT or more than enough to meet the current demand of only 7.76 million MT. Ending stock is forecast to be at 2.39 million MT which will last up to 64 days for next year. So clearly, if we would believe this, there is no real rice shortage.
However, NFA deputy spokesperson Rex Estoperez wonders why the private rice traders’ massive importation last year of 3.8 million MT were never released to the market. His office also received reports of certain traders stockpiling their rice, overpricing their stocks, and selling them in low quantities. Last month, The Bureau of Customs seized P519 M worth of imported rice stockpiled in four warehouses in San Juan, Balagtas Bulacan. These are 202,000 sacks from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
By April, local rice prices were still at P34 to P 40 per kilo while imported rice was close at P37 to P44 per kilo. But thereafter, the spike began and last Friday, the price of local regular milled rice is sold as high as P55 per kilo, local well milled rice at P56 per kilo, local premium rice at
P60 per kilo and local special rice at P65 per kilo. And in this situation, experts believe that some groups are trying to cash in on these “global spikes” and the incoming droughts of El Niño next year.
House Speaker Martin Romualdez, who earlier joined the Customs’ rice bodega raids in Bulacan, also met last week in a no-holds barred discussion with the officials of the powerful Philippine Rice Industry Stakeholders Movement (PRISM), whose members include the owners of the raided bodegas. PRISM representatives provided the Speaker with their valuable inputs on the state of the country’s rice industry. They also surprised the Speaker with a “gesture” to sell their rice at a lower P38 per kilo.
However, the Speaker advised them to immediately release their supply to the market at reasonable prices or face possible confiscation of their rice stocks, as well as prosecution. “If we find out that people are importing, hoarding and profiteering, we’re going to raid”. “And Customs will just seize it and give it to DSWD, to Kadiwa, to the DA for sale at a much lower price point,”. He further said, “hoarders need to understand that the government is serious in flushing out the people behind the price manipulation of rice”, “If they cannot be convinced to act on our simple request, then they might learn it the hard way when they get imprisoned”.
“We will call them in. We will be the one to talk to them on our terms. If we must detain them until they tell us the truth, we will do that. And if we must make sure they’re out of the business of smuggling, profiteering, or hoarding, we will root them out,” he ended. While the Speaker acknowledged the gesture of PRISM to sell rice at P38 a kilo, he thanked them but said this group could show their sincerity and help the government unmask the “bad eggs” or their members suspected of involvement in unscrupulous trade practices.
Speaker Romualdez promised he will find ways to help the grass roots rice retailers, who will lose financially, in this price cap situation in the form of financial and logistical assistance. The Speaker also hinted on also amending the provisions of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, set up to generate excess tariff income now pegged at P19-B, for programs to directly help our beleaguered local farmers.
Perhaps, the Speaker can also investigate our law enforcement agencies, particularly the NBI, DOJ and the NFA for failing to prosecute and jail a single price manipulator in the decades. It would seem that the rice cartel are ignoring or unafraid of the existing penalties of 15 year imprisonment and fine of P2M under the RA 7581 as amended by RA 10623 during Pnoy’s time. These greedy traders breezed through and were never caught nor convicted during the 6-year term of maverick President Duterte. No wonder, some legislators today wanted to increase the penalties on these greedy traders to include imprisonment of 20 to 40 years PLUS a fine of P100,000 to P5 million. Included in this bill are slapping of “economic sabotage” charges against these rice and corn hoarders, as well as other prime commodities.
DILG secretary Benhur Abalos instructed Metro Manila mayors and LGUS nationwide to post copies of EO 39 in all public and private markets including supermarkets. The PNP is tasked also to monitor rice prices while the Bureau of Customs will continue raids and inspection of warehouses to combat rice hoarding and illegal rice importation.
And yes, the big question awaits; will the people witness this time, an arrested greedy rice trader, the first hoarder/price manipulator in this current campaign of the Marcos administration?
That’s your “P64 thousand pesos “question for today.