The President asked the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to form an investigation team in the wake of reports of the high price and shrinking supply of rice in the South.
"The President has ordered a joint DTI-DA team to do the appropriate investigation. By tomorrow, they will have made an assessment of the situation," Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said.
Deputy Presidential Spokeswoman Lorelei Fajardo said the National Food Authority (NFA) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) were also directed to get tough on rice hoarders in Mindanao.
"Anyone caught or suspected of hoarding will be dealt with severely. No one will be spared," she said.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said rice hoarding may have pushed upward the prices of rice in Mindanao. The department said commercial rice currently sells as high as R51 a kilo in Mindanao, compared to R30 a kilo in Metro Manila.
Reports said panic buying of government-subsidized rice has started in Mindanao, specifically in the cities of Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
To ensure the supply of rice, the President recently said the government has secured inventories from the world's top rice producers and invested heavily in rice production and new high-yielding varieties of rice.
The government put into place a rationing system for government-subsidized rice through the use of access cards for the poor.
Last week, the President placed a two-year ban on the conversion of rice farms throughout the country to ensure food sufficiency.
Bishop blames greed, incompetence for soaring prices
Marbel (South Cotabato) Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez yesterday blamed businessmen for their greed and the incompetence of some government officials for the soaring prices of rice in Mindanao.
Gutierrez in an interview over Catholic-run Radio Veritas 846 yesterday said it is ironic that the price of rice in Mindanao is high, considering its a rice producing area.
"Something is wrong. The reason is greed of all the businessmen and the incompetence of some government people," he said.
Bishop Gutierrez, a former chairman of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) National Secretariat for Social Action, Justice, and Peace (NASSA-JP), said some retailers are taking advantage of the situation by repacking rice and selling them at a higher price.
He urged rice hoarders to mend their ways or they will not be given communion.
"I will talk to them in private and ask why did you do that? I will ask him to defend and explain... then I will say, you have to return what you have stolen plus the damage. If he will say 'opo', then I will absolve him... I will give him communion. If he will say 'no,' then I will say you will not receive communion because you're the one excommunicating yourself. You don't want to be united with Christ because you are exploiting the poor," said Gutierrez.
The Marbel prelate called on President Arroyo to use her powers to resolve the rice price crisis not only in Mindanao but all over the country.
"She has all the power, so use the power to solve the rice crisis because there is supply but the price is critical. There is rice so it's only a matter of will power of the President," Gutierrez said.
Over the weekend, rice prices in Mindanao reportedly have gone up to R45 to R51 per kilo. (Leslie Ann G. Aquino)
Release Mindanao's share of national budget - Villar
Senate President Manny Villar yesterday called on Malacanang to release Mindanao's 30 percent share of the lump sum funds of the P1.227 trillion budget for 2008.
Villar said, the fund is contained in a special provision in this year's budget. "The big question is: Has this money been released? …