the rice riots in Japan, also known as Kome Sodo, were started by a group of women who were protesting the surging rice prices. Landlords and rice merchants, anticipating the dispatch of troops to Siberia, began rice speculation, causing prices to skyrocket. The women began with peaceful petitioning, but when workers who were angry about the high rice prices joined the cause, it led to a nationwide uprising, estimated to have involved some 10 million people. The military ultimately subdued the rioters, but the uprising led to the collapse of the Terauchi Masatake administration.
The Progressive Alliance of Liberia called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed increase in rice prices. On April 14, 1979, about 2,000 activists began what was planned as a peaceful march. However, more than 10,000 “back street boys” joined the march and quickly transformed the orderly procession into an orgy of destruction. Widespread looting of retail stores and rice warehouses occurred, and damage to private property was estimated to have exceeded $40 million. Troops were called in to reinforce the police units. In 12 hours of violence, at least 40 demonstrators and rioters were killed, and more than 500 were injured.
From Bloomberg: “High rice prices, which have been fueled recently by India’s export ban, bring the risk of political instability in Asia and Africa, according to the head of a United Nations agency. ‘Rice, especially in Africa, can certainly bring potential conflict or social unrest, which at this moment in time would be quite dangerous, Alvaro Lario, who leads the International Fund for Agricultural Development, said in an interview in New York.’”
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has certified as urgent a bill imposing stiffer penalties against “agricultural economic sabotage,” Malacañang said on Thursday. This after the Chief Executive sent a letter to Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” F. Zubiri on Wednesday certifying as urgent the approval of Senate Bill 2432, which will repeal Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016. (Read the BusinessMirror report, “PBBM certifies as urgent bill vs agri economic sabotage,” September 22, 2023).
“The need to facilitate the passage of this important piece of legislation is imperative, especially now that the country is beset by rising prices and shortages in agricultural products partly due to nefarious acts of smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and cartel,” the letter read.
SB 2432 mandates the creation of the Anti-agricultural Economic Sabotage Council. It also defined the crime of agricultural economic sabotage, which will include smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and cartel of agricultural and fishery products. Those engaged in the said illegal acts will face stiff penalties, including life imprisonment and a fine of thrice the value of the agricultural and fishery products.
“When the offender is a juridical person, criminal liability shall be attached to all officers who participated in the decision that led to the commission of the crime, with a penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation, transportation, storage and warehousing, and domestic trade of agricultural and fishery products.”
Assuring the Filipino people that his administration is working hard to boost the country’s agricultural production, Marcos said the government will not falter in finding solutions to the country’s agricultural issues without hurting the needs of Filipino farmers and retailers. “The recent months have truly been challenging. However, we continue to find the best solutions to the issues that we face without compromising the needs of our farmers and retailers,” he said in his speech at the 51st anniversary of the National Food Authority on Tuesday.
We commend the President for working with Congress to address the sensitive issue of soaring rice prices. The people want to see him succeed in his fight against the powerful rice cartel and hoarders who keep on manipulating the prices of rice, sugar and onions. It would do well for the administration to also empower the Philippine Competition Commission to check industry players and dismantle the rice cartel.
Soaring rice prices and food shortages have contributed to past unrest in other countries. Apart from the rice riots earlier mentioned, surging wheat prices helped spark the Arab Spring that toppled rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen.
We don’t want to see any form of social unrest, much less a rice riot, in the country. That’s why it’s important for the government to heed the UN’s warning that “high rice prices bring risk of social unrest.”
The ultimate solution to high prices of rice is to invest in our rice farmers and help them improve their production. This will create jobs and cut our poverty rate. More importantly, it will also help strengthen the country’s long-term food security.