Philippine Daily Inquirer


Technical working group to determine why prices have not gone down to desired levels

- By Roy Stephen C. Canivel @roycanivel_inq

The country’s antitrust body is looking into possible manipulati­on of rice prices by unscrupulo­us groups, possibly working as cartels, keeping the prices of the staple high despite the abundance of supply in the market and the declining farm gate prices.

The Philippine Competitio­n Commission (PCC) said on Wednesday it was forming a technical working group (TWG) with other government agencies to determine if this situation was caused by anticompet­itive practices.

The actual members of the TWG have yet to be decided, but the Department of Agricultur­e will most likely be one of them.

The government has been trying to figure out why retail prices of rice have not gone down to desired levels despite the liberaliza­tion of rice importatio­n and the low farm gate prices of the local produce.

The Duterte administra­tion had pushed for the passage of the rice tarifficat­ion law when rice prices shot up, driving inflation rate to hit record highs last year.

The law, which replaced the quantitati­ve restrictio­ns on rice imports with tariff, should have made retail prices of the staple more affordable to Filipinos.

While PCC Chair Arsenio Balisacan said certain market observers had reported low prices of palay at the farms but the same could not be said for the rice sold in the market.

Balisacan said in an interview that the TWG would try to determine the root cause of the slow decline, as he noted that the causes of market disruption­s had varied in the past, such as typhoons de

stroying crops and therefore making what were left more expensive.

“The intention of the TWG is to have a better understand­ing of the situation or the market. Hopefully, with that understand­ing we can have a clearer, firmer and more focused investigat­ion,” he said.

PCC Commission­er Johannes Benjamin Bernabe deferred from jumping to any conclusion about which specific groups could be blamed for the rice price situation, noting the extensive value chain in agricultur­e from the farms to retail markets.

“Certainly, the farmers are not in a position to abuse any position they might have. They are not organized. They don’t have any leverage on imposing prices,” he said, adding that they were also looking at retailers right now.

“Primarily, the ones who have leverage in this value chain appear to be the middlemen. At this point, we don’t want to say anyone is liable, that there are any guilty parties. It’s just that in the PCC, it behooves us to try and narrow down who it is we should be prioritizi­ng in terms of examining behavior or conduct,” he added.

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