MANILA - Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said Monday "big liars" were behind warnings of a rice shortage, as he defended President Rodrigo Duterte's stand on imports of the staple grain.
Duterte recently instructed the National Food Authority (NFA) to purchase rice from local farmers to boost stockpiles and consider importation when there's a shortfall.
The Foundation for Economic Freedom, a group of former economic officials, and New York-based think tank Global Source warned separately that import curbs could drive up rice prices.
"Kapag may nagkwento sa inyo d'yan na magkakaroon ng rice shortage, he is nothing but a big liar and the instrument of traders to perpetrate the practice of exploiting our farmers by giving them false information," Piñol said in an interview with radio DZMM.
(If someone tells you that there will be a rice shortage, he is nothing but a big liar and the instrument of traders to perpetrate the practice of exploiting our farmers by giving them false information.)
Piñol said rice production went up to 4.14 million metric tons during the first quarter of 2017, 210,000 metric tons higher compared to the harvest from the same period in 2016.
The private sector, he added, has imported 650,000 metric tons of rice between 2016 and February 2017 while the NFA imported 250,000 tons.
"Ang tanong ko, kulang pa ba iyan? Bakit tayo nagmamadaling mag-import during the harvest season? Ano ang motivation?" he asked.
(My question is, Is that not enough? Why are we hurrying to import during the harvest motivation? What is the motivation?)
Addressing critics, Piñol said, "I have one advise for you: Do not mess with this President, do not cross swords with this President."
"Huwag kayong magtangkang maghoard ng bigas because right after I will learn of it, I will recommend to the President na magsagawa ng task force at ang lahat ng bodega ng traders, hahalughugin namin. Kapag may nakita kaming nagho-hoard ng bigas diyan, ipapademanda namin sa batas."
(Do not attempt to hoard rice, because right after I will learn of it, I will recommend to the President to form a task force and we will scour all warehouses of rice traders. We will file cases against those who hoard rice.)
Policy differences over rice importation have created a rift between some members of the NFA council and its administrator, Jason Laureano Aquino. This led Duterte to dismiss Palace undersecretary Halmen Valdez.
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