SPEAKER Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Wednesday joined the Bureau of Customs (BOC) anew in another round of surprise inspection of rice warehouses in Bulacan, as he also told Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio to send rice smugglers and hoarders to jail.
He noted that unscrupulous traders deserve such punishment for inflicting what he described as a “heinous crime” against the poor for keeping this Filipino food staple out of reach through price manipulation.
Speaker Romualdez warned rice traders and importers to immediately release their supply to the market at fair prices or face possible confiscation of their rice stocks as well as prosecution in accordance with due process of law.
“Rice found to be smuggled or hoarded should be forfeited in favor of the government, in favor of the people’s interest, for distribution or sale at a very low price,” he said.
It could be recalled that President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday ordered government agencies to exhaust all legal tools to control the rising prices of rice, likewise directing the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to inspect more rice warehouses.
“Hoarders need to understand that the government led by President Marcos Jr. is serious in flushing out the people behind the price manipulation of rice. Kung hindi makukuha sa simpleng pakiusap, baka magtanda sila kapag nakulong,” Speaker Romualdez, the leader of the 311-member House of Representatives, warned.
In line with the directive of Pres. Marcos, Romualdez and several other lawmakers joined the team led by Commissioner Rubio in conducting the surprise inspection of Gold Rush Rice Mill 3, Dinorado Rice Mill, and JSS Rice Mill, all in Bulacan.
The BOC team also conducted a separate inspection of another rice warehouse with no signage or marking within Intercity Industrial Complex.
With Speaker Romualdez are House Deputy Majority Leader Erwin Tulfo, Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairman Mark Enverga, and Bulacan 5th District Rep. Ambrosio Cruz, Jr.
According to Romualdez the inspection showed an adequate supply of rice so the continuing increase in rice prices indicates efforts to withhold stocks to reap windfall profit. He noted that some of the rice stocks in the inspected warehouses were over three months old.
“Yun lang ang warning natin sa lahat. Kung anong supply nyo ilabas nyo agad, wag nyo hintayin tumaas ang presyo sa world market. Nagbabantay kami at babalik kami dito. Kung kailangang i-raid ng Customs, ipapa-raid natin at kukunin natin at ibibigay natin sa mamamayan sa tamang presyo,” he added.
The House of Representatives’ highest-ranking leader also commended the BOC for making headway in its efforts to stamp out rice hoarders by conducting surprise warehouse raids and vowed to support any or all action against price manipulation of agricultural products.
“Rice hoarding is a heinous crime because it victimizes poor families who barely have enough money to put food on the table and pay for everything else that will uplift their quality of life. Hoarders profit from the misery of others, and for that they deserve to be in jail,” said Speaker Romualdez.
“Kaya ang panawagan natin sa BOC, pag-ibayuhin pa ang pagsisikap na mahuli itong smugglers at hoarders na ito. I believe that by sending them to jail, we will send a clear message to other hoarders to stop what they are doing under pain and penalty of jail time,” he added.
Romualdez, upon the invitation of Rubio, led a team of lawmakers from the House of Representatives on a fact-finding mission recently to ascertain if rice hoarders were indeed behind the sudden spike in prices of rice in the market.
He, along with Reps. Tulfo, Enverga, Cruz, and Edvic Yap (ACT-CIS) also joined BOC in inspecting FS Rice Mill, San Pedro Warehouse, and Great Harvest Rice Meal Warehouse located in the boundaries of Bocaue and Balagtas towns in Bulacan.
Romualdez assured Filipino consumers that the surprise inspection at warehouses holding rice stocks last week was not a one-hit wonder.
“That is why we are urging BoC chief Rubio to follow through their efforts during their raids. This should result in the filing of criminal cases of economic sabotage against these opportunists. Sila ang yumayaman sa paghihirap ng mga tao,” he continued.
The initial BOC raid on three warehouses in Bulacan yielded about P500 million worth of imported rice. BOC operatives raided the Great Harvest Rice Mill Warehouse, the San Pedro Warehouse, and the FS Rice Mill Warehouse, which were found out to be storing 25,000, 167,000 and 10,000 sacks of imported rice, respectively.
Their respective owners have already been instructed to submit proof of tax and duty payments.