Lawmakers call for ‘economic tokhang’ vs rice profiteers

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Lawmakers call for ‘economic tokhang’ vs rice profiteers

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) – September 12, 2019 – 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — House leaders yesterday urged President Duterte to launch an “economic tokhang” against rice importers and traders raking in huge profits by keeping prices high while offering low prices for local farmers’ palay produce.

Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, who is ways and means committee chairman, said the economic version of the administration’s bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign could consist of measures ranging from Duterte’s use of strong language to the filing of economic sabotage charges.

“A major pronouncement from the President makes everybody behave. His channels and methods of communication will be of decisive importance in discouraging price manipulation in the rice sector,” he said in a letter to Duterte.

He said Duterte’s “unique historical position as being the most widely popular President in recent Philippine history and his well-known political will and personal style enable him to issue resolute expressions of the government’s firmness in combatting rice cartels.”

Salceda suggested that as part of economic tokhang, the Department of Justice and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with the support of agencies such as the Philippine Competition Commission, should consider filing cases of economic sabotage, profiteering and price manipulation against abusive traders. 

Salceda said the DTI could invoke Executive Order No. 913, which grants the agency adjudicatory powers to protect consumers from profiteering and price manipulation. 

He said the DTI and the Department of Agriculture should inspect the warehouses of rice traders and importers to check on their inventories.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue could undertake an audit of these merchants, he added.

“The mere intensification of efforts to investigate profiteering should itself be a deterrent to abusive farmgate pricing,” he stressed.

Deputy speaker and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero urged local government units (LGUs) to join state agencies in inspecting warehouses and checking price manipulation.

He said LGUs should have visitation power as part of their authority to issue business permits and other licenses to commercial establishments.           

“There is no reason for rice prices to remain high, since Congress has allowed rice importation under the Rice Tariffication Law to fill our supply deficit. There is also no reason for palay prices to fall to ridiculous levels. Some people are obviously making huge profits at the expense of our farmers and consumers,” he said.

He added that strong measures are needed to combat price manipulation and profiteering.