President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the suggestion of Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol to legalize rice smuggling as a solution to the country’s dwindling rice supply.
“No, of course not, that will be destructive to the economy. You’d put down the market in turmoil,” Duterte said in a press conference on Sunday, September 2, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 2 shortly before leaving for his official back-to-back visit to Israel and Jordan from Sept. 2 to 8.
Piñol earlier said he will ask the National Food Authority (NFA) Council to legalize the smuggling of rice by establishing a rice trading center in Tawi-Tawi where government can address the country’s rice crisis.
“Smuggled rice unrestrained? That would promote disorder in this country,” he added.
According to Duterte, smuggled rice will be confiscated but can either be distributed for free or sold in lower prices.
“Well, those smuggled rice have not paid any taxes or tariff, or whatever. So, they are confiscated, at disposal of the government and maybe I shall distribute it for free or go down to the last prices, prevailing market prices,” Duterte said.
He was open to the idea of selling smuggled rice at a lower price which Filipinos can afford.
“Maybe we can import and lose…i-import natin, ipagbili natin (let’s import and sell it) at a price that malulugi tayo, pero (we’ll lose but) we’ll peg it at a price that the Filipino can afford,”
“We can lose but not allow smuggling in this country. It’s the other way around. Mag-import tayo tapos magpalugi na lang. At least meron tayong benchmark kung magkano ang maubos ang pera natin (Let’s import then lose. At least we have a benchmark how much money we’ll be losing),” he added.
No need to fire Piñol
Despite mounting calls for the resignation of Piñol and officials of the National Food Authority (NFA), Duterte said that there was no need for him to do so.
“You know, all officials including me are bound by laws on the matter. Rice, whatever it is, there are laws to be followed. Maybe the laws are weak or unenforceable. All we have to do is to improve on those laws, not necessarily fire people,” Duterte said.
Duterte said those calling for Piñol’s resignation only had to wait until he runs for senator in the 2019 mid-term elections.
“Hintayin na lang ninyo because October, I think Bello (referring to Piñol) is going to run for senator, there’s no need to fire him. You just wait, September, October,” Duterte said.
“And I don’t see any serious offense there. We have not really lost anything except there’s an aberration in the market,” he added.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said the DA chief still continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of Duterte.
Roque has also assured public that the country’s rice situation is expected to normalize this month as soon as the main harvest starts to come in.
RICE HOARDERS WARNED
In thepress conference, Duterte also warned rice hoarders not to test his patience saying he would not hesitate to exercise his emergency powers against them amid the country’s rice woes.
“Now, I’m just warning the traders, lalo na ang tiyan ng Pilipino (especially if it concerns the stomachs of Filipinos), do not force me to resort to emergency measure,” Duterte said.
Duterte said he will even ask law enforcement authorities to go after them by raiding their warehouses since he will not allow Filipinos to “go hungry.”
“Kung may nakita ako na (If I see any) hoarding, I will not hesitate to exercise the powers of the President and I will ask the military and the police to raid your warehouses, bodegas,” Duterte said, assuring that it was subject to just compensation.
“I can do that, and I said you force me, I will,” he added