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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Tougher agri law marked urgent

PBBM certifies Senate bill imposing sanctions on agricultural sabotage

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday called for the immediate passage of a law imposing sanctions on agricultural economic sabotage.

In a letter addressed to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, President Marcos certified Senate Bill No. 2432 as urgent to protect farmers and the country’s agricultural products from smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and other illegal practices.

The bill, filed by Senator JV Ejercito and nine other senators, defines the crime of agricultural economic sabotage, providespenalties for it, and creates an anti-agricultural economic sabotage council.

It also punishes government officers or employees who are guilty of the crime with perpetual disqualification from holding public office, the loss of the right to vote and participate in any public election, and forfeiture of employment monetary and financial benefits.

The proposed measure is among the expanded Common Legislative Agenda discussed during the 3rd Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC).

The bill is pending in the Senate while a technical working group is finalizing the version of the House of Representatives.

Meanwhile, Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said the government is considering lifting the price ceiling on rice soon.

Officials from the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will meet with the President to discuss the proposal to lift the price caps.

“There is a paper that will be the basis of the decision. The NEDA has the presentation,” Pascual said.

At the meeting, the DTI will ask the President to “go by the provision of law.” Pascual said the Price Act has the guidelines on price cap setting.

So far, the government has disbursed P69 million to some 5,000 small rice retailers who had bought rice at a price higher than the government-imposed ceilings on regular and well-milled rice.

The DTI had assured consumers that the country had enough rice, with the ongoing wet season harvest expected to increase the national inventory and stabilize prices.

Pascual noted that the sudden spike in rice prices was highly speculative considering there was no shortage of supply.

Meanwhile, the National Food Authority (NFA) is hoping that the higher price at which the government buys palay from farmers will entice them to sell their produce to the agency to help shore up stocks for the next lean season.

The Department of Agriculture says rice output is expected to surpass 20 million metric tons (MT) in 2023. Production in the first semesterwas at 9 million MT, 3.4 percent higher than the 8.7 million MT produced in the same period in 2022.

In the Senate, Senator Francis Escudero said he was baffled by the delay in filing charges against arrested rice smugglers and hoarders.

“A crime definitely took place. And I am wondering why there is a crime but still no criminals at this time,” Escudero said.

While the government has confiscated tons of rice believed to be smuggled or hoarded in a series of raids from warehouses around the country, no charges have yet been filed in any of these cases, Escudero said.

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