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DA’s Piñol eyes legalized rice smuggling to solve crisis in Zamboanga, nearby areas

Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Tuesday said he is proposing before the National Food Authority (NFA) Council to legalize all transactions related to rice, include smuggling, in order to address the crisis in the Zamboanga-Basilan-Sulu-Tawi-Tawi (Zambasulta) area.

The council is scheduled to meet on Tuesday, August 28.

“The crisis is a peculiar problem in that area, Zamboanga has relied on smuggled rice,” Piñol noted in an interview on ANC.

The area was relying on rice smuggling—particularly from Malaysia, but was stopped after President Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in July, the Cabinet official said.

“Kasi traditional sa kanila ‘yung umasa ng bigas sa kabila. So, sabi ko, rather than allow smuggling, an illegal activity, to continue, we might as well legalize it,” Piñol said.

“So my proposal is for the establishment of a rice trading center in Tawi-Tawi, where government would now take full control. You come in, you bring in your rice, you pay a little tariff, never mind if it’s just a token, for as long as we’re able to control the volume of rice coming in,” the Cabinet official said.

Piñol noted that delays in the delivery of NFA rice and those from the private sector contributed to the higher prices in Zambasulta.

Zamboanga City and Basilan declared a state of calamity as rice prices went up to as high as P70 per kilo.

Aside from the proposed rice trading center, Piñol said he will also present during the NFA Council meeting the requests of industry stakeholders to facilitate unloading rice at the Port of Manila.

The Bureau of Customs is now stricter in inspecting container vans because of rampant drug smuggling, Piñol said, noting that he asked Bureau of Customs commissioner Isidro Lapeña if it is possible to “relax a bit” the inspection of rice container vans.

Traders are also requesting that they be allowed to bring in imported rice until September 30. —VDS, GMA News