Philippines’ Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol urged rice traders against creating an artificial shortage, saying that he will not hesitate to ask President Rodrigo Duterte to come up with a task force that will open and inspect their warehouses. “This government cannot be blackmailed. We know our numbers, we know our data,” said Piñol. He assured that the Department of Agriculture (DA) was on target to achieve its 100 percent rice self-sufficiency target by 2020. “The moment I would sense that there is an attempt on the part of the rice traders and the rice cartel to create an artificial shortage, I will recommend to the President the creation of a task force that will open up and inspect warehouses in the country and those holding rice should be charged with economic sabotage,” he warned.
Philippines’ president Duterte had asked the National Food Authority (NFA) to purchase rice from local farmers until the peak harvest season instead of importing. A newspaper report, quoting New York-based Global Source, had warned of inflation as a result of Duterte’s order to prioritize buying rice from local farms. Piñol said the rice cartel was running a “PR campaign” to project a scenario of a possible inflation based on that report. “I’m not an economist, but how can a temporary deferment of importation cause inflation,” asked Piñol. He further added that the income of rice farmers would increase by P24.38 billion in the first quarter alone because of Duterte’s directive to defer rice imports.