Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Image Credit: AP

Manila: President Rodrigo Duterte has warned unscrupulous traders that he will not hesitate to use emergency powers to keep prices of commodities stable.

“Do not force me to resort to emergency measures. I will use the powers of the president and ask the military and police to raid warehouses if you insist on hoarding rice,” Duterte warned traders on Sunday afternoon before leaving for Israel where he is due for a three-day visit.

“If it concerns the stomachs of Filipinos, I will do it (order emergency measures),” the President said.

The prices of rice, just like most other commodities in the country had been rising as a result of high inflation and supply concerns. The president said in most cases, the increase in the price of staple is artificially driven as unscrupulous businessmen hoard stocks with the intention of drawing greater profit.

The price of rice had reached unprecedented levels in some parts of the Philippines, including in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi which traditionally enjoyed low prices of commodities due to its proximity to Sabah, Malaysia.

Barter traders before had shipped goods like rice and other commodities across the border resulting in stabilised prices. However in recent months, moves by Malaysia to seal its borders had caused the price of the staple cereal to double, according to Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol.

In the departure speech he gave at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2, the President rejected suggestions that “legalised smuggling” of rice be allowed to lower down prices.

“Government would rather lose money than allow smuggling. No, of course not. I will not allow it (smuggling). It will be destructive for the economy. It will promote disorder in this country,” he said.

“All officials are bound by laws,” he added.

The president said that if traders insist on smuggling rice into the country, these would be confiscated and either distributed for free to those who are in need.

“Well, those smuggled rice have not paid any taxes or tariff, or whatever. So, they are confiscated, at disposal of the government and maybe I shall distribute it for free or go down to the last prices, prevailing market prices,” the president said.

Although the country is predominantly agricultural with vast tracts of rice fields, the country often times had to resort to importing the staple cereal. The archipelagic nature of the Philippines coupled with frequent calamities, make it difficult for farmers to predict harvest success.