by Joel Roja/Asianjournal.com
MANILA – President Arroyo may declare rice and corn emergency if the perceived shortage in the country’s rice supply would continue.
In an interview, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez told reporters that under Republic Act 3452, which provides measures to stabilize the price of palay, rice and corn, among others, the President is empowered to initiate drastic measures to ensure consumers of continued rice supply.
He said under Section 12 of R.A. 3452, the President is authorized to declare a rice and corn emergency any time she deems it necessary in the public interest.
Under the “rice and corn emergency”, the government can control all stocks, whether private or public, and distribute it as it sees fit.
The provision further states that during the emergency period, the President can direct, subject to constitutional limitation, the National Food Authority “to conduct raids, seizures, and confiscation of rice and corn hoarded in any private warehouse,” provided that the agency will pay for the confiscated rice and corn at the prevailing consumer’s price.
But Gonzalez said that there is no need for that measure yet as supplies of rice are still stable.
Although the present situation does not warrant yet the declaration of a rice and corn emergency, Gonzalez assured that the government will not wait for the situation in India, Jamaica and Haiti to happen in the country before it would declare an emergency.
On Wednesday, Gonzalez met with officials of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), to find ways to efficiently implement laws against rice-hoarding.
He said he would be issuing a memorandum to the NBI informing them of various laws that would allow them to legally seize rice being hoarded by rice traders.
With this law, Gonzalez said that the NBI teams joining in the government’s campaign against rice hoarding, will be given more teeth and muscle to go after erring rice traders and dealers.
Gonzalez defines hoarding as having “50 percent more than your currently needed supply.”
The DOJ secretary earlier disclosed that the President has given law enforcement agencies the go-signal to take over warehouses of rice traders who insist on holding a rice holiday.
Gonzalez cited provisions in the 1987 Constitution that will protect the general welfare from emergencies, including “artificial” shortages.
“We can cite Section 17, 18 and 19 of the general welfare provision of the Constitution. If there is a situation like an artificial shortage, the government can take over,” he said.
Under Section 17, “in times of national emergency, when the public interest so requires, the State may, during the emergency and under reasonable terms prescribed by it, temporarily take over or direct the operation of any privately owned public utility or business affected with public interest.”
On the other hand, Section 18 provides that the State may, in the interest of national welfare or defense, “establish and operate vital industries and, upon payment of just compensation, transfer to public ownership utilities and other private enterprises to be operated by the government.”
Section 19 says that the State “regulate or prohibit monopolies when the public interest so requires. No combinations in restraint of trade or unfair competition shall be allowed.”