By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte has issued a stern warning to rice hoarders and cartels to “stop messing with the Filipino people” or face the full force of the law for triggering an artificial rice shortage.
In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, the President said around P149 billion would be released to help poor and vulnerable sectors to cope with soaring consumer prices, but admitted no amount could help them if businesses abuse the situation to earn more profits.
“To help stabilize rice prices, we also need to address the issue of artificial rice shortage. I now ask all the rice hoarders, cartels and their protectors, you know that I know who you are: Stop messing with the people,” Duterte said.
“Power sometimes is not a good thing. But I hope I will not have to use it against you. Consider yourselves warned; mend your ways now or the full force of the State shall be brought to bear upon you,” he added.
Duterte said he has directed authorities to unmask the perpetrators of the “economic sabotage” and bring them to justice.
From P149 billion this year, the President noted that the government would increase the subsidies to the poor and vulnerable sectors to P169 billion next year.
“But no amount of subsidy can help the poor if some businesses take advantage of the situation to make more money. I ask businesses to cooperate with us in charging a fair price,” he said.
On a long-term solution to lower rice prices, Duterte has certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill to ensure its swift passage in Congress.
Duterte said the country must switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely.
“This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to P7 per kilo, and lower inflation significantly. I ask Congress to prioritize this crucial reform, which I have certified as urgent today,” he said.