By Joey Natividad
PILI, Camarines Sur, 12Sept2013 (BicolToday.com) – Rice cartel exists in the Bicol region, as confirmed by knowledgeable sources in the rice sector, BicolToday.com learned yesterday.
This rice cartel is rumored as the big league player in the central Bicol mainland which manipulated the volatile rice price increases, which unaffordability means lesser food at the rural folks’ dining table.
Singled out is the Partido Rice Mill, whose warehouses and rice mills are located in a big agri-industrial compound in this town. Another player is Albay Rice Mill which is also based in this town along the national highway leading to Albay. However, their neighbor Cosay rice mill firm, a major player in the 80’s and 90’s, still exercises a key role in the market, but it was already elbowed out from a dominant position by Partido Rice Mill.
An informant told BicolToday.com the companies, specifically Partido Rice Mill, influence and control at least 80% of the Camarines Sur market, while the remaining 20% market share is divided among the small rice millers and compradas. The companies also have their own market shares in the Albay market.
Partido Rice Mill is reported making inroads into the CALABARZON and the National Capital region markets, taking advantage by filling up the gap left out by big rice suppliers of Bulacan and Central Luzon areas which were crippled by the series of typhoons and flooding in the last few years.
The firm is also engaged in importing Vietnam rice in the early 2000s using Nato Port in Sangay town as port of entry, have them hidden in warehouses, and unload them to buyers in the Metro-Manila market.
“Partido Rice Mill is in the best position to dictate the price of commercial rice in the central Bicol mainland as most rice traders, big wholesalers and retailers get their rice stock from this firm,” said the source, refusing to be named. “If Partido jacks-up the price, the traders will abide and adjust their prices, which ultimately lead to higher price at the retail end.”
The existence of a rice cartel in the Bicol region has surfaced over the week as government and traders have been “blame-tossing” each other on whose fault rice has become volatile.
Rice price has climbed up sharply over the past few week from PhP30 to PhP 45 per kilo. The price of the staple food had been steady at PhP 30 during the pre-election months.
The poor man’s rice offered at subsidized price by the government-run National Food Authority (NFA) had been steady at PhP 25/kilo, but mysteriously, it disappeared in the local market in the last few weeks.
Government lacks the teeth to impose price control over rice in a free-market economy. It can only control NFA rice, but commercial rice is left out to market forces.
During the Martial Law years in the 70’s, rice was under strict government price control, knowing that a volatile rice might fuel social unrest and could trigger a series of price increases of other basic commodities.
Reports informed BicolToday.com over the week that NFA rice available at the market has been hoarded by traders and mixed with commercial rice, in order to be sold at PhP 44/kilo.
Government regulation says that NFA rice should be sold only at modest mark-up of PhP2/kilo. But, middle class consumers avoid the NFA rice owing to its foul-smelling nature, and this government rice ends up at the poor man’s table, and distributed as food-packs during calamity relief operations.
“NFA rice is used by traders as extender of quality commercial rice at 50-50 mix, a profitable way to cheat the consumer” said a store owner.
Over the past three weeks, speculations made the rounds that the price increases were caused by the law on supply and demand, and that misleading information were also being dished out that rice supply is very low owing to off-harvest season.
However, this was denied by the government. The National Irrigation Administration (NIA) in the province last week claimed that there was bountiful harvest of rice and there are enough stocks available in the market. NIA has a strong realistic assessment over the rice situation owing to its close monitoring of farm irrigation systems.
As of this week, to cushion the impact of the galloping rice price increases, NFA has begun unloading its stocks to flood the market. NFA rice, as of yesterday, began making its presence in the retail market with selling price at PhP35 – PhP 39 per kilo. But, the quality is questionable owing to its yellowish color and foul-smell of fumigant chemicals. So far, consumers still prefer the quality commercial rice. [BicolToday.com]