Rice cartels, like drug lords, deserve their doom

2nd of 3 parts

WITH the President’s departure statement a strong warning against cartels, the message is likewise sent to traders  of other commodities and reverberates across the corridors of power in Manila that since the beginning were the cradle that protected these cartels.

I recall a major rice shortage in 1995 that sent government and the public into a frenzy, with Senate investigations and the whole caboodle of attention heaped on sudden spikes. No cartels, however, were unmasked. All other mentions in history died their natural death – buried under other news in a week’s time.

In today’s discourse on this topic, notice how no one else publicly mentions the cartels. Even the opposition in its press conference instead blames government rather than the cartels.

Well, to pin the blame on government is what the cartels want, since it shields them from that attention scrutiny and condemnation they deserve. Has the opposition joined others in the bureaucracy to become the cartels’ ally? Would they prefer not to offend the cartels? You tell me.

Moving forward I would not be surprised if they would rather call out Duterte for his strong words and criticize the actions against cartels. Useless politicking is their game, while the people suffer under the evil of those they prefer not to fight.

The past governments that allowed these cartels to proliferate, smuggle, and harm our tables need to be investigated. Rooting out their influence will be arduous, since like election scammers and the drug trade, their links within the government bureaucracy are deep and well entrenched.

Sources claim that they have pockets of influence in the NFA officialdom at the national and regional levels until today that are difficult to mess with. They misdeclare and divert supplies to the cartels bodegas to ramp up the supplies that will be hoarded. The cheaper imported rice is mixed with more expensive local stocks to lower their costs while they sell it at high prices in the local markets.

Moreover, their influence seems to ensure that the supply of rice is always tight, and imports tightly controlled to ensure that the supply is always short of our requirements, thereby precipitating a price increase. The Government to government (G2G) importation system where imports take long to be approved is a system that keeps them happy.

Nonetheless, these sources also claim that these links and pockets of influence are getting jittery with the attention and patterns revealed in the spike in rice prices in Zamboanga.

This Zamboanga outcome is not something they and their cartel patrons consider a positive development. They, according to sources, are a bit scared and will try to cover their tracks, since a big part of them was exposed. Worse, it is revealed that some elements of the cartels will now price on their own against the tacit agreements on fixed pricing they once held with other players.

On the other hand, boosting supply via better harvests or imports is bad for the cartels, who prefer a tight supply situation upon which a rise in prices are justified.

In the next installment of this column I will discuss new developments and results of programs that may deal a decisive blow to the cartels.

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