It has long been known that a small group of Filipino rice oligarchs have hoarded supplies in order to artificially hike prices at a time when increased demand fuelled by international inflationary trends in emerging markets has made the staple foodstuff un-affordable for many of the poorest citizens of The Philippines. In his 2018 State of The Nation Address, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned that if rice barons did not voluntarily amend their corrupt ways, he would use the power of the state to bring them into line through a variety of measures including but not limited to prosecutions, the opening up of government rice storehouses and the relaxation of import duties on foreign grown rice.
But while the corrupt practices of rice oligarchs has been widely condemned, a new investigative video report from Greco Belgica of the Democratic Party of The Philippines made from inside a privately owned rice warehouse in Binondo reveals the extent of the hoarding as literally mountains of rice were sitting stacked in the warehouse while ordinary consumers can scarcely affording supplies.
The visual impact of Belgica’s report lends credence to the time tested aphorism that a picture is worth a thousand words. The next logical question therefore is: what should the government do to fairly distribute hoarded rice supplies to the most needy while bringing the oligarchs responsible for the hoarding to justice?
The answer can be derived from examining how President Duterte has dealt with the ill-gotten gains of drug lords. President Duterte has rapidly seized the assets of narco-terrorists brought to justice by the authorities. This has included the dramatic seizing of luxury cars purchased with dirty narco-money. Many of the cars have been publicly destroyed as Duterte looks on, thus delivering a clear message that the government will not tolerate anyone profiting off the misery of ordinary Filipinos.
The solution therefore is to treat the hoarding of rice in order to artificially inflated consumer prices as a crime akin to profiting from the black market narcotics trade. As such, the hoarders in question should not only be arrested but their assets should be seized by the government. Such assets should not only include the hoarded rice itself which ought to be distributed to citizens in rapid order, but the profits of such individuals and firms should also be taken into public ownership in the same way that the material assets of narcotics dealers and traffickers are seized by the authorities.
Of course long term solutions including an opening up of Philippine markets to more agricultural imports as well as working to make sure future domestic agricultural warehouses are operated by ethical companies is necessary, but in the immediate term, a clear example must be made of the oligarchs whose behaviour is as devious as that of the lowest shabu dealer.
The culture of corrupt business practices among Philippine oligarchs is in fact derived from the same malicious and anti-national mentality as that which has underscored the decades long narcotics epidemic that Duterte has tackled head-on, first as mayor of Davao city and now as President. This same phenomenon of the most vicious forces of greed and disregard for public welfare that allowed the narcotics trade to flourish across The Philippines is what led to the picturesque island of Boracay to be turned into a cesspit by oligarchs whose business activities polluted a once pristine environment.
By taking decisive measures to prioritise the preservation and restoration of the natural environment of Boracay over the illegal dealings of oligarchs, President Duterte demonstrated that his zero-tolerance attitude towards anti-national, anti-social and anti-environmental criminality extends beyond the war against narcotics.
It is therefore high time that Duterte exercises the same bold leadership in tackling the rice hoarding oligarchs as he continues to do across other important sectors of society. There is no excuse for a corrupt class of individuals profiting from the suffering of ordinary people to continue to operate without facing the stern hand of justice.
The time is now to bring down the rice oligarchs once and for all.