Duterte warns rice traders against "artificial scheme"

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 2) — President Rodrigo Duterte warned traders who would take advantage of the country's rice situation.

"Do not force me to resort to emergency measures," he told the media after delivering a speech before he left for historic visits to Israel and Jordan.

If there was an artificial scheme going around, Duterte said he would not hesitate to exercise the powers of the President and ask the military and police to raid warehouses, adding that these would be subject to just compensation.

The President said he would not let Filipinos go hungry.

"I can do that," he said. "And if I said, you force me, I will."

Smuggled rice for free, lowest price

Regarding the smuggled rice in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, Duterte favors giving it away or selling it at low prices to the public.

Duterte does not agree with proposals to legalize rice already smuggled into the country, but said he would be willing to distribute it for free or sell it at a low price to Filipinos.

"Those smuggled rice have not paid any taxes or tariff or whatever so, they are confiscated. (For) disposal of the government, and maybe I shall distribute it for free or go down to the last prices prevailing in the market," he said Sunday.

Duterte made it clear, however, that he was not for the legalization of the smuggled grain.

"No, of course not. That would be destructive to the economy. You'd put down the market in turmoil. Smuggled rice unrestrained? That would promote disorder in this country. Maybe we can import and lose... Import natin, ipagbili natin at a price... Malulugi tayo pero [We can import and sell it at a price... We will lose money but] we'll peg it a price that the Filipino can afford. We can lose, but not allow smuggling in this country," he added.

In January, the Philippine Coast Guard seized around P125 million worth of smuggled rice in waters off Zamboanga Sibugay province.

The region of Zamboanga City, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi was placed under state of calamity last month due to rice shortage. This prompted lawmakers to call for resignation of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, who proposed importation of rice and fish to address rising inflation.       

No need to fire agri chief

But, Duterte said Sunday he was not in favor of the calls for Piñol's  resignation.

"You know, all officials, including me, are bound by laws on the matter – rice, whatever it is – there are laws to be followed. Maybe the laws are weak or unenforceable. All we have to do are improve on those laws, not necessarily fire people," the President said.

Duterte said he saw no reason to remove Piñol from office.

"We have not really lost anything except that there's an aberration in the market" he said.