EDITORIAL: Raid the warehouses

RICE, the country’s chief staple food, is again in the news these days. The slant of the current media coverage is on an impending rice shortage supposedly because the stock of the National Food Authority (NFA) has allegedly dwindled to a dangerous level.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Pinol in a statement headlined by a national daily last Saturday charged that the rice shortage story “is just fake news.” Pinol attributed the “fake news” to “greedy rice cartels” which are “operating again” to create an artificial rice shortage to justify increases in prices of rice in the country.

The Agriculture secretary’s strong accusation came on the heels of other rice-inspired stories such as President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s signing of Republic Act 10969, or the Free Irrigation Service Act, exempting all farmers with landholdings of eight hectares and below from paying irrigation service fee, and the President’s reported directive to the NFA Council giving it the go-signal to import 250,000 metric tons of rice.

Mr. Pinol has proposed that a government task force be formed to inspect warehouses of grains traders to ascertain they are not hoarding rice to create an artificial rice shortage to justify raising of prices of the commodity in the market.

This strong-willed government should follow the suggestion of the Agriculture secretary. Filipinos are not strangers to hoarding as an criminal practice of grains traders. Everybody and his uncle in this country also knows that hoarding is the twin of rice smuggling, another evil most hated by President Duterte.

Let this be an opportunity to stop these evils in our society which even the unlamented Marcos dictatorship had a hard time combatting. At the time, if we remember right, Marcos, through his infamous presidential decrees, made hoarding and similar anti-people business practices crimes tantamount to economic sabotage punishable by death.

If government really wants to know the truth, it can create the multi-agency task force now and conduct surprise raids of warehouses of suspected hoarders. Truth to tell, economic saboteurs are just as bad as druglords.