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‘Task Force Bigas’ to hunt rice hoarders

A new government task force will soon be created to conduct a nationwide rice inventory and combat attempts to create an artificial rice shortage in the country.

President Duterte has given the green light for the formation of “Task Force Bigas” to be led by the Department of Agriculture during a recent meeting with some Cabinet members.

The new task group will be supported by concerned agencies, including the Bureau of Customs, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Philippine Statistics Office.

“President Rody Duterte today approved the creation of a task group which will conduct an actual rice stock inventory in the country and establish an accurate baseline information on the country’s rice supply,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said in a Facebook post last Wednesday night.

“The Task Force is also expected to avert any attempt to hoard rice and create an artificial shortage following the announcement made by Pres. Duterte said that no rice importation should be made during peak harvest season,” he said.

Pinol explained that the President’s latest policy was meant to protect local famers from price manipulation. Rice prices fall from P18 per kilo during off harvest season to P10 to P12 per kilo during peak harvest due to the entry of imported rice.

Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea is expected to release a memorandum order to operationalize Task Force Bigas, Piñol added.

Piñol said the task force will open and inspect grain warehouses, including those that entered the country’s backdoor.

These rice stocks, he said, were smuggled by rice syndicates that receive the rice from other countries in the waters off Malaysia and transferred to small boats going to Zamboanga City and other small ports. “Grains warehouses are proposed to be opened and inspected in the process,” he said.

Citing information from the International Rice Research Institute, Piñol said the country has an inventory of five million metric tons of rice with a buffer stock good for 46 days at present.

Piñol announced the government’s plans to revive the “rolling stores” that will bring basic commodities to communities at affordable prices.

Unlike the previous practice of just bringing the stores to rural areas, he said these rolling stores will be dispatched to subdivisions and high-populated areas of Metro Manila and other huge urban centers.

“The Rolling Stores will only carry products from small farmers like pork, beef, and chicken produced by backyard raisers, rice directly coming from rice farmers’ cooperatives and the fish catch of small fishermen,” he said. “These products will be neatly vacuum-packed plastic containers to ensure food safety,” he added. (GENALYN D. KABILING)