Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol (left); Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar (right)
Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol is dismayed by reports of his alleged proposal to “legalize” rice smuggling in the ZamBaSulTa (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi) area.
The situation has been made worse, he said, when a reporter from PTV4 asked the President for his opinion about it at a press briefing last Sunday.
In an open letter addressed to Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, the DA chief clarified some misconceptions regarding his proposal to put up a trading center in ZamBaSulTa in an effort to curb smuggling.
Open letter to Secretary Martin Andanar
Tawi-Tawi Rice Trading Center to end smuggling, earn P1-B
Dear Sec. Martin,
I am deeply disappointed that a reporter of PTV4, a government television channel, would cause further misunderstanding and confusion on a very important issue by asking President Rody Duterte whether he approves of my proposal to “legalize rice smuggling” in the ZAMBASULTA Area.
Of course, when asked whether he would “allow the entry of smuggled rice to address the rice crisis,” President Duterte was right when he said “No, he won’t allow it.”
The reporter should have gone over my previous statements on the proposed Tawi-Tawi Rice Trading Center, which by the way is supported by the local government units and the people of the ZAMBASULTA Area, before she posed to the President a wrongly premised question.
Here is another attempt to explain what this issue is all about.
The smuggling of rice into the ZAMBASULTA Area from Vietnam or Thailand using the Sandakan and Labuan Ports in Sabah as transshipment points has been going on for years now.
While the illegal activity supplies the rice needs of the ZAMBASULTA Area (Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi) which has a rice sufficiency rate of only 10%, it deprives government of an estimated P1-B to P2-B in revenues and worse, it threatens the livelihood of farmers in the main island of Mindanao.
When the Malaysian authorities a month ago decided to clamp down on the rice smuggling activities in the ports of Labuan and Sandakan, the ZAMBASULTA Area suddenly ran out of rice supplies.
Now, the rice needs of the islands are provided for by the National Food Authority (NFA) but this cannot be sustained because with a total consumption of 220,000 metric tons every year, the ZAMBASULTA rice requirement would deprive other regions of government subsidized rice.
The NFA is importing only about 500,000 metric tons of rice every year sold for P27 to P32 per kilo in the market to stabilize the price.
Shipping commercial rice to the island provinces is a difficult option because the price of rice per kilo would be over P50 due to the difficulty in shipping the supplies to the area, a problem made worse by security concerns.
So, during the series of meetings I had with the local officials of ZAMBASULTA, the idea of establishing a Rice Trading Center, where the erstwhile illegal rice traders could bring in their stocks covered with import permits, quarantine and sanitary clearances and charged with the correct tariffs and duties, was endorsed by the stakeholders.
What would be the advantages of the Rice Trading Center?
- It would end rice smuggling because every sack of rice brought in through the Rice Trading Center will be charged with corresponding tariffs roughly estimated to be between P1-B to P2-B every year;
- It will ensure steady supply of legally imported rice for the people of the ZAMBASULTA area until such time the Department of Agriculture and the LGUs have fully revived the rice farming industry in the islands and in Zamboanga City;
- It will provide a safeguard against the unregulated entry of rice which could adversely affect the rice farmers of the main island of Mindanao. Under the proposal, the volume of rice which would be allowed to bring in through the Rice Trading Center should not exceed the total consumption requirements per capita of the ZAMBASULTA Area.
To set things straight, those who are saying that this idea means “legalizing rice smuggling” are simply missing the point.
First, let us define “smuggling.”
Smuggling is the act of bringing valuable goods into a country evading and avoiding the payment of tariffs, duties and taxes.
So, if the rice shipped in through the proposed Tawi-Tawi Rice Trading Center is covered with import permits, charged with appropriate tariffs and duties and covered with quarantine and sanitary clearances, would that still be “smuggling?”
Of course, NO! That becomes now a legitimate rice importation. Is that really difficult to understand?
I really hope that PTV4 and other government media entities under your department would exert more effort to clarify nebulous issues with other departments like the DA, especially in these times where the critics of the administration are engaged in a disinformation and destabilization campaign.
As it is now, our hands are already full trying to address the deliberate attempts of spreading false information by the so-called mainstream media.
The last thing that we need now is a PTV4 reporter further fanning the fire by asking the President to respond to a wrongly premised question.
I apologize for writing this open letter but this is intended to let the public know the other side of the story of the controversial Tawi-Tawi Rice Trading Center.
Secretary Manny Piñol