House leaders on Wednesday pressed the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to file charges against rice smugglers, including those behind the illegal entry of the food staple through ports in Mindanao, even as they strongly backed the distribution of confiscated rice to the poor.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez and Bicol Saro Party-List Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan backed the decision of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to distribute confiscated smuggled rice to beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in Zamboanga Peninsula.
The President led the distribution last Tuesday.
“I congratulate the Bureau of Customs and other concerned agencies for a job well done, but they should not stop at confiscating rice and other products smuggled into the country. These offices should file charges against the smugglers immediately,” the Speaker said.
Romualdez said unless the culprits are jailed or punished, they would continue doing their illegal activities, even if some of their smuggled products end up being seized.
“Furthermore, this initiative solidifies our collective stance against the activities of hoarders, smugglers, and those who unscrupulously manipulate the prices of rice and other essential commodities,” he said.
According to Port of Zamboanga District Collector Arthur Sevilla, the rice distributed by the President to the poor was part of the illegal shipment in May this year.
He said 42,180 bags valued at P44 million were seized, stressing the confiscation, donation, and distribution of the staple was properly documented.
The government has outsmarted smugglers and taught them an expensive lesson with the president’s recent move to distribute smuggled rice stocks to poor families in Zamboanga, according to Yamsuan.
Yamsuan said this President’s action sends a strong message to smugglers and hoarders that they have nothing to gain from their unfair trade practices, while at the same time extending assistance to poor households that have suffered the most from these illegal acts.
As the concurrent Agriculture Secretary, Marcos’ decisive move also aims to protect small Filipino farmers from unfair competition, as smuggled rice that flood the market usually pulls down the prices of their produce, Yamsuan added.
“The President has given smugglers and hoarders a bitter, expensive lesson where it would hurt them the most—their pockets. Their seized rice stocks mean their investments can never be recovered,” said Yamsuan, whose party list organization represents the people of Bicol, including the region’s more than 700,000 small farmers and fisherfolk.
“By his single, strong-minded act, the President has helped farmers and poor families and punished those who have made life difficult for them,” Yamsuan added.
Meanwhile, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. on Wednesday welcomed the National Bureau of Investigation’s move in filing of criminal charges for profiteering against six individuals in connection with the hoarding and price manipulation of onions, saying it only shows the government’s strong resolve in putting an end to agricultural cartels in the country.
Barzaga is a senior member of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, which has been investigating the price manipulation of onions and other agricultural products.
The leadership of the lower chamber had called for a congressional probe in December last year when prices of onions surged to over P700 per kilo, and as a result, the panel chaired by Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga was able to unmask key cartel personalities and allied firms.
The House of Representatives has been cooperating with the Department of Justice and the NBI in going after the onion cartel, which is behind the hoarding and price manipulation of agricultural products, especially onions.