Lawmakers slam agriculture department over rice hoarders

MANILA, Philippines– Several lawmakers told the Department of Agriculture (DA) they were disappointed over the agency's failure to stop rice hoarding and smuggling, which led to high inflation.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Davao City Representative Karlo Nograles reminded Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol of President Rodrigo Duterte’s marching order to go after rice smugglers and hoarders. (READ: Rice prices soar as Duterte marks 2nd year in office)

Hino-hoard yung rice ng NFA (National Food Authority) at tinatago nila [ng mga negosyante], nagkakaroon tayo ng artificial shortage that drives the prices up,” Nograles told Piñol during the DA’s budget briefing in Congress on Thursday, August 2.

(Businessmen hoard and hide the rice of the National Food Authority (NFA), which resulted to artificial shortage and drove prices up.)

The DA asked P123.7 billion for 2019, but only got P55.9 billion under the National Expenditure Program. This is P6.5 billion less from its 2018 budget.

Piñol admitted that Nograles’s observation was "not unfounded."

However, the agriculture chief told the panel that businessmen may have a different take on the matter.

"We call it hoarding, but businessmen may call it inventory management. Sa kanila [for them], it’s legitimate business," Piñol said.

Nograles countered Piñol's explanation and insisted that what businessmen are doing is economic sabotage.

"That's price manipulation. That’s not inventory management,” Nograles said.

Meanwhile, BUTIL party-list representative Cecil Chavez questioned the agency’s policy shift toward easy access credit financing instead of giving out subsidies. She even threatened to defer the budget briefing if the agency continued to insist the shift.

Chavez added that farmers need subsidy especially now that the government is proposing to lift import quotas and slap tariffs on imported rice. She also said that farmers may not be able to pay off loans.

Piñol explained that the shift will make farmers more responsible in spending funds, as opposed to subsidies could lead to dependence and negligence.

He also attributed subsidies to the economic manager’s hesitation to give more funds to agriculture.

Piñol was previously quoted as saying that he wanted the government's conditional cash transfers scrapped.

Moreover, Piñol said that over 90% of farmers were able to pay off loans. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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