Agriculture chief Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol said he would resign only if ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte, stressing that he serves at the pleasure of the appointing power.
The STAR/Geremy Pintolo
Duterte: No plans to fire Piñol over rice woes
Rosette Adel ( - September 2, 2018 - 5:25pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he is not dismissing any official from office over the country’s rice woes which include the insufficient supply and high prices.

“You know, all officials, including me, are bound by laws on the matter – rice, whatever it is. There are laws to be followed,” Duterte said during his departure speech to Israel on Sunday.

“Maybe the laws are weak or are unenforceable. All we have to do is to improve on those laws, not necessarily fire people," he added when asked if he plans on firing Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel "Manny" Piñol and National Food Authority Administrator Jason Aquino over their supposed incompetence in handling the rice crisis.

The president was asked about the matter after various groups called for Piñol and Aquino’s resignation.

Piñol drew public backlash after proposing plans to import more rice and fish, as well as legalize rice smuggling, in a bid to fight the rising inflation.

READ: Piñol accepts challenge, eats bukbok rice

The rice crisis also resulted in a surge in its prices. Government data cited that the average retail prices of regular-milled rice rose 12.76 percent, while that of well-milled rice went up 9.89 percent.

While answering the question, Duterte mistakenly referred to Piñol as Labor Secretary Silvestre “Bebot” Bello III. He said “Bello” would pursue a senatorial bid.

“Hintayin na lang ninyo (Just wait), because October I think, Bello is going to run for senator, there's no need to fire him. Let's just wait [for] September, October,” Duterte said.

“And I don't see any serious offense there. We have not really lost anything except that there's an aberration in the market," the president added.

Both Piñol and Aquino earlier said they are not resigning over the rice crisis.

Duterte rejects legalization of 'rice smuggling'

Despite excluding Piñol from the list of officials he would sack, Duterte said he is not in favor of the former’s proposal to legalize rice smuggling.

"No, the smuggling itself, of course not. That will be destructive to the economy. You'll put down the market in turmoil. Smuggled rice—that would promote disorder in this country," Duterte said.

Instead of merely disposing of the smuggled rice, Duterte said he plans on distributing it for free or importing it at a very low price.

“They are confiscated… We can import and lose. Sell at a price that we can lose. Peg it at a price that Filipinos can afford,” the president said in mixed English and Filipino.

Piñol earlier explained that rice smuggling was the cause of scarcity of the Filipino staple food in some city. He said that while the government calls it smuggling, “people in the island considered it as part of their traditional trading practices.”

Early August, the local governments of Zamboanga and Isabela, Basilan were placed under a state of calamity over the scarcity of rice. The declarations, according to their local leaders are effective for 60 days.

This was despite Piñol’s claim that the rice crisis in Zamboanga is already over.

READ: ‘Riceless’ Zamboanga lifts state of calamity

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