Philippines may be forced to allow entry of smuggled rice

Manila: Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol said the government may be compelled to allow the entry of illegally imported rice in the Tawi-Tawi and Sulu to prevent a shortage of the cereal in the area.

According to Pinol, the success of the government efforts to stem smuggling in the two areas in the Southwestern tip of the country had been partly to blame for the rice shortage being experienced in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (ZAMBASULTA) region.

“For a province which has long been reputed to be the drop-off area for rice smuggled in from Malaysia, Tawi-tawi never had any problem with its rice supply which was sold for as low as P34 (Dhs 2.33) per kilo. When the smuggling route was closed a month ago, however, Tawi-tawi residents suddenly found themselves lining up for rice sold as high as P100 (Dh6.87) per kilo right after the Eid Al Fitr,” Pinol said.

Tawi-Tawi is located at the country’s western far end, just across the border with Malaysia.

But Pinol said that last month, President Rodrigo Duterte and Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohammad, agreed to tighten security at the border areas. This made it difficult for the smugglers to slip in commodities such as rice.

Sulu and Tawi-Tawi is closer to Malaysia than it is to the Philippines, and for generations, the prices of commodities in these two provinces were somehow dampened by the fact that smuggled items are of lower cost compared to items sold legally.

Pinol also cited the recent case in Zamboanga City when the cost of rice reached unprecedented levels when government tightened on the entry of smuggled cereals.

He said that although the rice crisis was declared to have ended in Zamboanga City with the arrival of new rice stocks from farmers cooperatives supported by the Department of Agriculture in Mindanao and the National Food Authority, “Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi are still gripped with very limited supply of rice.”

“There is not much time, however, because Tawi-tawi’s rice supply is only good for 15 days while Sulu only has about 10 days. The only other option left to the local officials is to allow the resumption of rice smuggling operations in the area,” he said.

He said that last week, Zamboanga City and Isabela City in Basilan Island declared a ‘state of calamity’ due to the high prices of rice in the area.

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