Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the National Food Authority (NFA), which was recently reverted to the Department of Agriculture (DA), reported that two Iligan City-based rice traders were arrested on Wednesday for hoarding 40,000 bags of rice.
Edd Gumban/File
40,000 bags of hoarded rice seized in Iligan City
Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Some 40,000 bags of rice were seized by the government from hoarders in Iligan City following an intensified campaign against illegal rice trading in the country, which is being considered as the primary reason for the continued increase in rice prices.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the National Food Authority (NFA), which was recently reverted to the Department of Agriculture (DA), reported that two Iligan City-based rice traders were arrested on Wednesday for hoarding 40,000 bags of rice.

Rice stocks of Filipino-Chinese trader Sonia Payan and Taiwanese Jhonny Tan were kept in four warehouses in Iligan City and were raided by the Subcommittee on Rice Hoarding, Cartel and Smuggling.

The committee includes the NFA, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs (BOC), Philippine National Police (PNP), Philippine Ports Authority, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Labor and Employment.

“The traders were the first to be arrested in the intensified campaign against rice hoarding ordered by President Duterte,” Piñol said.

“The documents in the possession of the two traders were inconsistent with their stock inventory and appeared spurious, prompting the NFA to order the seizure,” he added.

The traders will be charged with hoarding, involvement in cartel operations and profiteering.

Last August, the NFA created a technical working group that aims to coordinate with government enforcement agencies, combat illegal rice trading in the country and resolve the issue of artificial rice shortage.

Under the law, the NFA has the power “to order the seizure, whenever there is cornering, or hoarding, as may be defined by the authority of rice and/or other grains and their substitutes and/or the byproducts thereof, to stabilize the supply in the area of scarcity and restore prices to normal levels.”

It is part of the function of the NFA to ensure industry regulation and development by conducting monitoring of the grains market and businessmen, enforcement of rules and regulations governing grains business.

License revocation

Business groups and individuals involved in some P300 million worth of smuggled rice seized by the PNP and BOC recently during raids in warehouses in various areas across the country may face permanent revocation of their import license.

PNP spokesman Chief Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. said the BOC is now pursuing cases against groups and individuals behind the smuggling of the seized rice.

“Even as restrictions on rice importation has been relaxed, entities behind the P300-million rice smuggling may face permanent revocation of their import license,” he said.

PNP chief Director General Oscar Albayalde said the joint PNP-BOC team discovered 124,807 sacks of illegally imported rice in seven warehouses in Bulacan when it conducted a random inspection of 801 warehouses containing 1,059,729 sacks of rice in various locations nationwide.

Albayalde said among the 801 warehouses inspected, 168 were in Central Luzon, 137 in Cagayan Valley and 139 in the Ilocos region. The rest were scattered in different regions in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao.

He added that two warehouses in Metro Manila were also inspected, 40 in the Cordillera Administrative Region, 59 in Western Mindanao and 75 in Bicol region.

All 801 warehouses inspected had an aggregate holding capacity of 7.2 million sacks but contained only 1,059,729 sacks during the inspection.

Other specific details about the series of raids were not immediately available.

Durana said the PNP initiated the inspection of rice warehouses upon the instruction of Duterte to crack down on hoarding and smuggling of rice that resulted in an artificial shortage in the grains supply.

‘Unimpeded’ importation

In a related development, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda yesterday suggested that the government ask hotels, fast food and restaurant chains and big corporations to import rice to force the retail price of the food staple to go down.

Salceda said the DA and the NFA should facilitate rice purchases by these establishment from abroad in line with Duterte’s directive for “unimpeded” rice importation.

“Unimpeded means no one should block rice importation. If inflation dos not go down, it means DA and NFA officials impeded it and mismanaged the presidential directive. The President should discipline those officials,” Salceda said.

The fall in rice prices will result in a decline in inflation, which represents increases in the cost of goods and services, according to the lawmaker, as he noted that spiraling rice prices contributed one percent to the 6.7-percent inflation rate last month.

In other developments, concerned groups yesterday said Duterte’s Administrative Order 13, which removes the non-tariff barriers and streamlines administrative procedures on the importation of agricultural products, will only worsen the rice crisis.

“Month after month, the Duterte government has promised that rice importation will stabilize rice prices. Filipino consumers have been suffering for months with the weekly rice price hikes since January. After more than half a year going through those empty promises, this is only what the administration could amount to: a recycled and flawed solution,” Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jess Diaz, Rhodina Villanueva, Louella Desiderio

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