Duterte economic team hit for ‘slow’ response to rice problem

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Photo by Job Anthony R. Manahan

A THOMASIAN economist hit the economic managers of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte for their ‘slow’ response to the country’s rice problem.

Emmanuel Lopez, dean of the Colegio de San Juan de Letran’s graduate school, said the government should have foreseen the possibility of a rice shortage in the country and immediately imported “thousands of metric tons” of rice when the problem came.

“The problem is that ‘yong mga economic managers ni Duterte mabagal kumilos… [They] have to be quick and responsive to the needs of the economy. [T]hat’s the reality of what is happening around us. These things could not be blamed alone on the president. This is a culmination of many factors,” he said in an interview with the Varsitarian.

Last Sept. 24, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who has taken over the National Food Authority Council, announced the entry of one million metric tons of rice in the country next year, to control the surging prices of the staple commodity in the market.

However, Piñol said he was against rice importation in principle, as local farmers produce “enough rice.”

In a press briefing last Sept. 8, presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. downplayed the nine-year high 6.4 percent inflation recorded in August, saying it was due to the material imports for President Duterte’s infrastructure programs. He claimed the record-high inflation was “under control.”

Lopez, formerly chairman of the UST Department of Social Sciences, said the government should do a large-scale importation of rice to solve the country’s soaring inflation.

“In order to solve the problem, you have to flood the market with imported rice para bumaba iyong demand, para ma-supplement `yung demand. Therefore, bababa `yung presyo ng commodity,” he said in a forum last Sept. 26.

The Philippine peso also further weakened, closing at a 12-year low of P54.31 against the US dollar on Sept. 25.

Lopez, who spoke in the forum titled “Philippine Economy in the 21st Century, said the country’s rice production was insufficient, which he blamed on declining agricultural land and conversion by property developers.

The country lags behind other Southeast Asian nations in terms of farming technology, he said.

“Development is another cause of the problem [relative] to innovation and agricultural production [since our technology] has not been… developed,” he said.

The forum was organized by the Political Science Forum.

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