WHERE it should have moved swiftly to address a matter of public safety, the Aquino Administration has taken a few days or longer than it ought to in responding to reports that synthetic (read: fake) rice is being sold openly in, of all places, Davao City, the turf of Mr. Tough Guy, Rodrigo Duterte.
The government could have immediately allayed fears of consumers by declaring, for instance, that the sale of this non-rice was not taking place across the archipelago (which evidently was the case because no other reports on the fake grain were subsequently heard from other cities or provinces).
Instead of waiting for the Senate to call for a hearing on the matter, the government could have quickly investigated the matter, as is the responsibility of the executive branch, and have a spokesman read out an official statement on national radio or TV assuring the public the fake rice story was really a non-story. That everything is under control.
Enter Francis Pangilinan, Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, out again in front of the cameras after a long period of absence from public view. The synthetic rice issue immediately became a political commodity.
At a Senate hearing on Monday, Secretary Pangilinan said no “fake rice” was proliferating in the country. He acknowledged 60 reports of the possible existence of such rice and said only one–the suspicious-looking grain from Davao City–was found questionable. The samples were found to contain dibutyl phthalate (DBP), a plasticizer used in manufacturing cosmetics, he said. He warned the public against eating such rice until after the conclusion of their investigation.
The ex-lawmaker provided not much help. He did not announce any specific steps his agency would take to resolve the synthetic-rice issue, such as chasing after those behind the trading of the grain and imposing due penalty. And in a timely manner.
Where has this former senator of a now-Cabinet secretary been since his appointment in May 2014 as another Aquino aide with a rather pretentious title, the intervening months having been witness to typhoons or other?
Pangilinan must have been somewhere, maybe running after rice smugglers or rice hoarders? But if that was the case, he should have been in the news, but he was not.
The Justice department is now also involved, with Secretary Leila de Lima saying her directive from President Aquino was to look into the issue and to deal accordingly with the guilty parties. She also said she was going to coordinate with Pangilinan on the investigation.
Malacañang later assured the public that the proper authorities are working together to verify the alleged presence of synthetic rice in the local market.
The presidential communications officer, Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr., said the departments of health, trade and industry, agriculture and the National Food Authority, are conducting investigations into the matter.
As slowly as the wheels of justice most often grind, the simple process of putting an end to this threat to public health, if that is really the case, and especially as it concerns the nation’s staple food, seems to be taking forever – with most of it spent on investigating.