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Safeguarding rice supply should be regular business

IN a headline-grabbing move this week, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, accompanied by a party that included a number of Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Customs personnel, as well as Bulacan Fifth District Rep. Ambrosio Cruz Jr., Quezon First District Rep. Mark Enverga and Rep. Erwin Tulfo of ACT-CIS party-list, conducted a surprise inspection of three rice warehouses in Bulacan, which resulted in one of them being temporarily closed due to a lack of cooperation from its owners.

House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIAHouse Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez. PHOTO BY J. GERARD SEGUIA

The activity, as Romualdez explained, was to allow the lawmakers to see for themselves the status of the country's rice supply and to determine firsthand whether hoarding or smuggling is taking place, as that might explain the recent sharp rise in rice prices for consumers. We appreciate the sincerity of Congress in wanting to address the issue of high rice prices and inefficient supply, and it is creditable that some lawmakers are willing to do a bit of fieldwork to better inform themselves of current circumstances.

But the question needs to be asked: Is having the Speaker of the House of Representatives personally carrying out enforcement efforts against smuggling and hoarding really the most effective way to combat those chronic problems?

This is not a criticism of Speaker Romualdez or other members of Congress who engage in such activities; as we said, they should be given credit for being willing to be hands-on with their job responsibilities. Both houses of Congress have shown a keen interest in investigating the recent rise in rice prices and the apparent shortage of supply, but perhaps they need to take one step back and ask, why are these sorts of questions continually raised in the first place?

That is a bit of a rhetorical question, of course. The reason that the country regularly faces a “mystery” of suddenly spiking prices and short supplies of basic commodities is obvious: that, in spite of an overabundance of laws and regulations intended to prevent smuggling and exploitative business practices, enforcement is laughably lax. This time it's rice, but at other times sugar, onions, eggs, fish, or some other common food item that no one should ever have to worry about being able to buy when they need it, at a reasonable price.

Of course, there were Coast Guard and Customs personnel accompanying the Speaker to check on whether the rice found in the three warehouses — three, out of thousands across the country — was smuggled, but what are they doing the rest of the time when congressional VIPs and reporters are not present? What is the Department of Agriculture doing? Or the National Food Authority, whose one and only responsibility is to ensure the availability of an adequate supply of the staple that makes up 40 percent of the average Filipino's diet?

Consistent, transparent enforcement

While the exercise of Speaker Romualdez and his colleagues does offer some reassurance that the country's leadership is concerned for the people's well-being, for people to have real confidence that the government is not only addressing the problem, but is in fact carrying out its real responsibility of preventing the problem from arising in the first place, there must be consistent, transparent enforcement operations by the agencies whose job it is to do that.

We suspect that the average unscrupulous speculating trader probably does not worry for a moment that the Speaker of the House or another delegation of congressmen is going to show up on his doorstep despite the warning that such activities as the one earlier this week are intended to deliver. If that trader knows with certainty, however, that enforcement personnel will appear on a regular basis and that he will lose his business and go to jail if they find anything seriously amiss, he is very likely to mend his ways.

If the lack of enforcement is a matter of insufficient personnel or resource1s, then Congress should prioritize providing the responsible agencies what they need to make that constant excuse finally irrelevant. Yes, it may cost quite a lot to do that, but that cost will still be an inconsequential fraction of the much bigger cost to the entire economy of letting the problem continue.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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