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‘Use all legal tools to curb rice prices’

About 202,000 sacks of suspected smuggled rice were discovered by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in three warehouses in Bulacan.

The BOC continues to visit and inspect suspicious rice warehouses to protect Filipino farmers, control the price of rice, and hold accountable those involved in the illegal trade of agricultural products.

Photo source: Bureau of Customs PH

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday expressed concern over the continued surge in the price of rice and ordered all relevant agencies to use all legal tools available to stop it.

In a meeting with all concerned sectors and agencies, Marcos asked for updates on their respective initiatives to ensure there’s enough rice and that prices remain affordable, particularly for poor households.

Marcos also said that based on the Department of Agriculture’s projections, there should be enough supply of the grain for now.

But a series of typhoons that severely affected rice-producing regions could drive prices up, he said.

He also ordered the Bureau of Customs to intensify raids on warehouses linked to hoarding and smuggling.

The BOC and the Agriculture Department are also studying whether rice seized by the BOC could be donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

In a Palace briefing, Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio said the President wants to intensify government measures to stop rising rice prices.

“As per the directive of the President, what we are going to do is we will validate all warehouses that are storing imported rice, and then upon validation, we will issue letters of authority to conduct inspections of these warehouses,” Rubio said.

Rubio said three rice warehouses in Bulacan are under investigation after the BOC received reports of hoarding and smuggling in the area.

At least P505 million pesos worth of sacks of rice were found in the warehouses, which were identified as Great Harvest Rice Mill Warehouse, San Pedro Warehouse, and FS Rice Mill Warehouse, all located inside the Intercity Industrial Complex in San Juan, Balagtas Bulacan.

Rubio said the imported sacks of rice were from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Rubio said that BOC has sent a letter of authority to the three warehouses, barring their owners and operators from retrieving their goods unless they can present the required documents to show that duties and taxes were paid on the imported sacks of rice.

Rubio said the BOC is cooperating with the Department of Justice in its efforts to bring down illegal rice importation and in filing charges against smugglers.

The bureau, he added, is offering a 20 percent commission as a reward for any person who tips the agency off on smuggled or hoarded goods.

The reward system is covered by the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, he said.

“If I’m not mistaken, it’s about 20 percent of the value of the goods. If the goods we confiscate are goods of value that we can auction, then they are entitled to the reward,” Rubio said.

The informant will not be entitled to a cash reward if the smuggled goods are donated, however, or declared for official use.

The reward system will prevent the hoarding of basic goods, like rice, which is being kept in warehouses, causing artificial shortages and triggering price increases.

In the wake of the successful raids on three warehouses in Bulacan, Rubio said the bureau will conduct inspections of warehouses in Metro Manila and Central Luzon that reportedly contain thousands of sacks of smuggled rice.

Also on Tuesday, Bicol Saro Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan said he wants the 31-year-old Price Act updated to punish hoarders and profiteers of rice and corn with harsher penalties, including imprisonment of up to 40 years in certain instances when their illegal acts are tantamount to acts of economic sabotage.

Under House Bill (HB) 7970, Yamsuan also sought the creation of an anti-rice or corn hoarding and profiteering task force in every province, city, and municipality to regularly check the inventory levels of all mills, warehouses and stock houses of rice and corn, and find out if these commodities are being hoarded.

“One of the reasons greedy and shameless traders are bold enough to hoard rice or corn even during difficult times is that the punishment imposed on them under the law is not harsh enough. We need to amend the outdated Price Act to ensure that the penalties remain commensurate with the crimes committed, and include other acts and practices that should be deemed illegal but not covered under this law,” Yamsuan said.

Yamsuan issued the call after a fact-finding team from the House of Representatives led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) found evidence of rice hoarding in several warehouses in Bulacan last week.

Rice hoarding has been suspected as among the reasons behind the steady increase in rice prices, which has reached more than P50 per kilo in several areas.

Hoarding creates an artificial shortage of a commodity, which, in turn, jacks up its prices.

Under the measure, the hoarding of rice and corn “during or on the occasion of any calamity, disaster, or any emergency declared as such by the President” will be deemed equivalent to economic sabotage and punishable by imprisonment of 20 to 40 years, with eligibility for a pardon pm;u after 30 years.

Criminal liability under the bill “shall attach to the persons with direct supervision and control of such establishments” where hoarding of rice or corn has been determined during times of emergency, disaster, or calamity.

These include the respective presidents, chief operating officers, or managers of the establishments, according to the bill that Yamsuan filed with Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte.

The hoarding and profiteering of rice and corn in other circumstances is punishable under the bill by imprisonment of 10 to 20 years and a fine of P100,000 to P5 million.

“We have to make rice and corn hoarders answerable under the law,” the lawmakers said in the explanatory note to their bill.

Hoarded rice or corn stocks will be confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government, the bill also states.

Under HB 7970, the definition of hoarding has been expanded from merely being “undue accumulation” to “storage or possession” of any basic commodity or prime commodity beyond normal inventory levels “as determined by the implementing agency concerned,” which is the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the case of rice and corn.

Prima facie evidence of hoarding is present under the bill when a trader or any person has stocks that are 50 percent higher than his or her usual inventory and refuses or fails to sell these to the public or make such stocks “available in the regular channels of production, trade, commerce, and industry.”

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