By Ben Rosario and Charissa Atienza
A senior administration congressman has urged President Duterte to take swift and determined actions to address the adverse effects of tarrification and wage a crackdown against unscrupulous rice traders for economic sabotage, profiteering, and price manipulation.
In an aide memoire sent to Duterte, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte-Salceda, chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, called for increased allocation of rice-buying operations and intensified enforcement of anti-profiteering laws, among others.
Salceda strongly urged Duterte to launch an “economic tokhang” against abusive rice traders whom he accused of playing a “dysfunctional” role in the implementation of the seven-month old Rice Tarrification Law.
To ease the plight of the country’s poor farmers, the government should start opening the warehouses of the rice traders and look into their business records and operations, Salceda said.
He said the government should fully use its power to open warehouses to determine if the market traders are hoarding rice and committing economic sabotage.
“Open their warehouses, look into their business record,” the House leader urged the government.
He said the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) should look into the operation of the market traders and if it finds any irregularities, it may submit their findings to the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Salceda also urged the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Department of Agriculture (DA), and Department of Trade Industry (DTI) to closely monitor price movements of the staple and volumes of domestic and import trade on rice.
Salceda said the Department of Justice (DOJ), together with the DTI and other support agencies, should go strong in the filing cases of economic sabotage, profiteering, and price manipulation against unscrupulous traders.
Copies of Salceda’s unsolicited advice to the executive were also sent to Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez.
The veteran lawmaker noted that the problem that has besieged rice farmers has been triggered by the “unintended consequence of increasing bargaining position of trading monopsonies over powerless farmers.”
“If you analyze it, the Rice Tarrification Law has further strengthened our traders. I am calling on the government to launch ‘tokhang’ against them,” he told reporters.
“This is one biggest structural anomaly in our economy,” Salceda stressed.
Traders have reportedly exploited the effects of the Rice Tarrification Law, thus resulting in a plunge in the buying price of palay.
“Rice liberalization, while curing certain inefficiencies in the rice trade sector, most notably the shortfall between supply and demand, has not addressed chronic inequities in the bargaining power between rice farmers and rice traders,” Salceda pointed out.
He recommended a number of proposals that might help farmers fight off their current condition and deter further rice price manipulation and profiteering.
“NFA (National Food Authority) should be allowed to borrow to triple its current buying operations from P7.5 billion to P22.5 billion. DA and DTI should implement comprehensive farmer assistance to affected farmers,” he told Duterte
Price movements should be closely monitored by the PSA, DA, and DTI.
“The Department of Justice and the Department of Trade and Industry, with the support of agencies such as the Philippine Competition Commission should study filing cases of economic sabotage, profiteering, and price manipulation against abusive traders,” said Salceda.
He added: “The DTI in particular may invoke Executive Order No. 913 which grants it adjudicatory powers to protect consumers from profiteering and price manipulation.”
Government, Salceda said, should offer farmers a range of legal recourses that will protect them against further abuses.
“Additional penalties under Letter of Instructions No. 1359 may also be imposed upon proven profiteers and price manipulators. The mere intensification of efforts to investigate profiteering should itself be deterrent to abusive farmgate pricing,” the House official said.
He added that government complaint hotlines on farmgate price manipulation, information campaigns on traders that offer highest buying prices and support for government efforts to procure its buffer stocking, relief operations and local services needs from farmers at fair prices are highly recommended.