MANILA (UPDATE) — The Department of Trade and Industry on Friday said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s order to put a cap on rice prices was already in effect and warned retailers they could be penalized if they violate this.
Marcos signed on Thursday an executive order that mandates a price ceiling for regular milled rice at P41 per kilo and well-milled rice at P45 per kilo.
Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual said the order was immediately effective upon its publication in the Official Gazette, and the price cap must already be enforced in markets.
"Puwede silang magbenta nang mas mababa pero nilalagyan natin ng ceiling para maiwasan iyong nangyayaring manipulasyon sa merkado ‘no, na kahit na mayroong supply, tumataas ang presyo," he said in a televised briefing.
"Nakita natin kasi, nitong mga nakaraang araw, biglang sumipa iyong taas. Iyong mga nakaraang araw o linggo, steady lang at may kaunting pagtaas, tapos biglang sumipa ‘no nitong mga nakaraang few days," he added.
The trade chief clarified that some premium rice varieties were not covered by the order which only applies to regular-milled and well-milled types.
"Mayroon tayong mga premium varieties na hindi covered ng price act. At sisiguraduhin din natin na hindi nami-mislabel iyong subject, iyong type ng rice na regular-milled rice o well-milled rice, hindi nadi-dislabel na premium type," Pascual said.
He said his agency and the agriculture department will monitor the rice prices regularly, including the possible mislabels. Marcos, Jr. earlier said the justice department would also be part of the monitoring team, especially in Metro Manila markets.
Video from PTV
Those who violate the price ceiling, he warned, could face penalties under the Price Act, such as imprisonment of not less than a year nor more than 10 years and a fine of P5,000 but not more than P1 million.
Relevant government agencies and the Interior Department are currently coordinating with retailers who already bought rice at a higher price before the EO took effect.
BIZ GROUP, LAWMAKERS QUESTION ORDER
In a statement, the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce & Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII) meanwhile said the order would "never work."
FFCCCII President Cecelio Pedro said the prices are based on supply and demand.
"Pag mababa ang presyo, hindi magpo-produce. Kung nalulugi sila hindi sila magbebenta ng rice eh di lalong wala. Kung mataas naman, what's the use of price control kung masyadong mataas ang price control?" said Pedro.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said "price controls are 'cures' that could be even worse than the disease" and that the government should instead arrest hoarders who reduce rice supplies and jack up prices.
"Medyo trabahong tamad ang price control," Hontiveros said.
She said that even without hoarders, prices would still go up because farmers are not getting enough support amid high fertilizer prices and lack of insurance for rice growers whose crops were damaged by recent floods.
Lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives, meanwhile, described it as a “desperate move” to quell frustrations over the administration’s failure to deliver on the President’s campaign promise to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo.
ACT Teachers Party List Rep. France Castro said the administration should have acted sooner, when it observed rice prices starting to soar.
Gabriela Party List Rep. Arlene Brosas also said the government should have rolled out significant subsidies to rice farmers affected by typhoons and acted on alleged rice cartels with more urgency.
While Brosas agreed that imposing price ceilings on rice is necessary at this point, she noted that it would only hurt small retailers, who are at the receiving end of rising farmgate palay prices.
“Dapat na matigil ang pagsandig ng bansa sa imported na bigas - lalo't papatataas ang tunguhin ng presyo ng bigas sa pandaigdigang antas at nanalasa ang isang global food crisis,” Brosas added.
Kabataan Party List Rep. Raoul Manuel, meanwhile, proposed to expand the National Food Authority's power to regulate rice supply and its retail price.
"Dapat din ang NFA kesa ang trabaho niya ay magtago lang ng buffer stock, dapat ang NFA, bigyan siya ng mas malakas na kapangyarihan para i-regulate talaga ang supply, pati ang presyo ng bigas sa ating bansa,” he said.
House Speaker Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, expressed support for the President’s intervention to control the soaring price of rice.
“The imposition of price ceilings on this staple food is a timely and necessary intervention to shield our fellow countrymen from the undue economic burden caused by unwarranted surges in rice prices,” Romualdez said.
He assured the public that the House of Representatives will intensify its investigation into the alleged hoarding and price manipulation of rice and other basic agricultural products.
— with a report from Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News