AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Monday dismissed claims that there would be rice shortage and price increase if President Rodrigo Duterte proceeds with his plan to stop rice importation.
“Those spreading rumors that stopping rice importation could lead to rice shortage are fooling the Filipino people,” Piñol told reporters in an interview after attending a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.
Debunking claims of a possible rice shortage, the Agriculture chief noted that the government has enough data that would show an increase in the country’s rice production.
Piñol was reacting to separate warnings recently made by the Foundation for Economic Freedom, a group of former economic officials, and New York-based think tank Global Source that stopping rice importation could lead to inflation.
“They are pulling the leg of the Filipino people. They cannot refute our data, our data is satellite-based. The rice production for the first quarter was 210,000 metric tons over and above what was harvested during the same period last year,” he said.
Piñol clarified that there is no plan to totally stop rice importation, only that the government wants to defer rice importation.
“I’m not an economist, but how can a temporary deferment of importation cause inflation? What we are saying is to defer importation and not do it during the harvest season,” the Agriculture secretary pointed out.
Piñol said the Department of Agriculture never said that it is against rice importation.
In fact, he pointed out, there is still a shortfall of about 500,000 to 800,000 metric tons every year even with the improved rice production.
Pinol said projected shortfall could be covered by the minimum access volume (MAV) or the mandatory volume that the Philippines has to bring in every year as part of its commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
What the government is trying to stop, he added, is the practice of rice traders to import rice during the harvest season, which greatly affects the income of local rice farmers as prices of rice tend to drop because of huge supply.
Pinol said he is aware that a public relations campaign of rice traders aims to create a rice shortage and condition the minds of the public about it.
“Gone are the days when they could manipulate the data to make it appear that there is rice shortage. Right now, our data are based on scientific analysis, satellite-generated images and ground validation,” he added.
The DA secretary warned rice traders who are planning to create a rice shortage scenario that he would not hesitate to recommend the creation of a task force authorized to inspect their warehouses all over the country and file charges against those found involved in rice hoarding. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA