Piñol wants special rice imports for Zambasulta area

MANILA, Philippines – Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol proposed additional rice imports for the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (Zambasulta) area due to sky-high prices.

Zamboanga City and Basilan earlier declared a state of calamity due to rice woes. Rice prices in these two areas reached as high as P70 per kilo.

Piñol also said a kilo of rice in some areas in Tawi-Tawi reached as high as P100 after Eid'l Fitr.

In a Facebook post, the agriculture chief said he submitted a memorandum to President Rodrigo Duterte to allow the special importation of 132,000 metric tons of rice from the private sector for the affected areas.

He also proposed the establishment of a rice trading center where all imports would be "unloaded, charged with minimal tariffs, and distributed only in the Zambasulta area."

He also wants local governments to establish a rice production project with an initial 1,000 hectares as pilot area.

"Tawi-Tawi has already committed 10,000 hectares while the 3 others have committed 1,000 hectares each," Piñol said.

What caused the rice crisis: Piñol said the rice crisis in the Zambasulta area was heavily influenced by smuggled rice. Once that supply was cut off, prices jumped. (READ: Philippine Coast Guard seizes smuggled rice in Basilan)

"Smuggled rice was sold in the market at prices lower than locally produced commercial rice and local officials hardly lifted a finger to stop the illegal activity. There were reports that some local officials and their relatives were actually behind the smuggling operations which deprived government of revenues," Piñol said.

He added that quality rice in Zambasulta was sold as low as P29 per kilo.

The supply of smuggled rice was suddenly cut after Duterte met with Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and they agreed to act on illegal activities of both countries.

"The move, I believe, was primarily aimed at addressing the movement of members of terror groups, but it also effectively stopped the rice smuggling operations," Piñol said.

What the government has done: The Department of Agriculture, together with private rice traders and the National Food Authority, opened the  Bigasan ng Masa (Rice for the Poor) in Zamboanga City. 

Each person can buy up to 5 kilos a day of NFA rice for P27 and P32 per kilo. 

Because of the initiative, Piñol declared the rice crisis in Zamboanga City "over."

However, some news reports indicated that both Zamboanga City and Basilan have not yet lifted their state of calamity declarations.

Moreover, only around 100,000 bags of rice were allotted to Zamboanga City, which could only last for 16 days.  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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