Rice cartels, like drug lords, deserve their doom

1st of 3 parts

“Kung may nakita ako na (If I see any) hoarding, I will not hesitate to exercise the powers of the President and I will ask the military and the police to raid your warehouses, bodegas,” – President Duterte at his departure for Israel

PRESIDENT Duterte’s strong words echo his drug war, and promise the worst for those who play around with our rice supply.

Rather than skirt around or deny the rice crisis, the President put this long ignored issue at the front and center of our current consciousness.

It is correct that this scandal be given the right attention, since undue profiteering over the basic needs of the people is a grave sin in my book.

When almost 25 million Filipinos are unable to meet their basic calorie needs, the presence of cartels controlling the price of commodities such as rice is about as bad as the proliferation of shabu in our slums and fishing villages. It is a direct assault on our food supply.

I elaborated on this further in my column in the edge Davao:

Like the drug trade, ” the rice cartels have made their inroads into agencies like the National Food Authority, where administrators and line officials since time immemorial have been accused of being agents of cartels who use the G2G importation scheme to import cheap stocks that are illegally diverted to their bodegas where they are mixed with local rice, giving them a larger sales margin since locally produced rice is more expensive.

This helps explain why the immediate rise in rice prices in Zamboanga was allegedly precipitated by the immediate stoppage of smuggling activities taking place between traders in both Malaysia and Tawitawi.

This once in a lifetime event caused a disruption in supply, forcing local traders to jack prices up due to the quick shortage. Having no cheap imports to mix with their own, they were probably forced to sell high to get the same margin.

What this did was expose the activities of the local cartel and reveal patterns of the nefarious trade that for so long eluded even past governments that barely noticed these things. Was this ignorance on purpose? I wonder.

The zambasulta area is thus a revealed weak point of these cartels, since these areas are not known to produce large rice surpluses.

In addition, the players here are widely believed to be in cahoots with local pirates and terror networks that prey on every ounce of trade taking place in those waters. Not even the strong American presence in the Sulu seas years ago deterred these bandits.

Again, we wonder why, and are not surprised that it is only the current government’s actions that exposed these.

With the events of the recent months, expectations were high that the NFA under Jason Aquino would deliver the right buffer stocks having received the go signal to import from other governments. Upon arrival, however, the rice stocks were allegedly infested with weevils, causing uproar among legislators and netizens.

The heat on rice is on, and the words against those gaming our rice supply are the sternest ever. How the cartels or the tendency to engage in cartel practices will retreat, is something we will watch.

In the next installment of this column I will discuss current issues and the rather lackluster response of other parties such as the opposition that may reveal cartel patterns of influence witgin government we need to look out for.

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