Yamsuan: Amend decades- old Price Act to slap hoarders with stiffer penalties

Bicol Saro Partylist Representative Brian Raymund Yamsuan wants the 31-year old Price Act updated to punish hoarders and profiteers of rice and corn with harsher penalties, including imprisonment of up to 40 years in certain instances when their illegal acts are tantamount to acts of economic sabotage.
 Under House Bill (HB) 7970, Yamsuan also sought the creation of an anti-rice or corn hoarding and profiteering task force in every province, city and municipality to regularly check the inventory levels of all mills, warehouses and stock houses of rice and corn, and find out if these commodities are being hoarded.
 “One of the reasons greedy and shameless traders are bold enough to hoard rice or corn even during difficult times is that the punishment imposed on them under the law is not harsh enough.
 We need to amend the outdated Price Act to ensure that the penalties remain commensurate to the crimes committed, and include other acts and practices that should be deemed illegal but not covered under this law,” Yamsuan said.
 Yamsuan issued the call after a fact-finding team from the House of Representatives led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) found evidence of rice hoarding in several warehouses in Bulacan last week.
 Rice hoarding has been suspected as among the reasons behind the steady increase in rice prices, which has reached more than P50 per kilo in several areas. Hoarding creates an artificial shortage of a commodity, which, in turn, jacks up its costs. Under the measure, the hoarding of rice and corn “during or on the occasion of any calamity, disaster, or any emergency declared as such by the President” shall be deemed equivalent to economic sabotage and punishable by reclusion perpetua, which means imprisonment of 20 to 40 years and eligibility for pardon after 30 years.
 Criminal liability under the bill “shall attach to the persons with direct supervision and control of such establishments” where hoarding of rice or corn has been determined during times of emergency, disaster or calamity. These include the respective presidents, chief operating officers or managers of the establishments, according to the bill which Yamsuan filed with Camarines Sur 2nd District Rep. LRay Villafuerte. The hoarding and profiteering of rice and corn in other circumstances is punishable under the bill by imprisonment of 10 to 20 years and a fine of P100,000 to P5 million. “By creating an artificial shortage of rice and corn, the costs of the same shoot up, there is panic buying in the markets, government agencies are under fire for allegations of corruption and mismanagement, poor Filipino families cannot afford these basic commodities and many go hungry. In sum, it is a dangerous crime that may potentially sabotage the economy and render our people desperate and hungry,” Yamsuan and Villafuerte said in their explanatory note to HB 7970.
 “We have to make rice and corn hoarders answerable under the law,” they added. Hoarded rice or corn stocks shall be confiscated and forfeited in favor of the government, the bill also states. Under HB 7970, the definition of hoarding has been expanded from merely being “undue accumulation” to “storage or possession” of any basic commodity or prime commodity beyond normal inventory levels “as determined by the implementing agency concerned,” which is the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the case of rice and corn.
 Prima facie evidence of hoarding is present under the bill when a trader or any person has stocks that is 50 percent higher than his or her usual inventory, and refuses or fails to sell these to the public, or make such stocks “available in the regular channels of production, trade, commerce and industry.” “In the case of rice or corn, a person’s usual inventory thereof shall be reckoned from the month immediately preceding before the discovery of the stocks respective of the date/time he started his business,” according to the bill. The anti-rice or corn hoarding and profiteering task forces specified under the bill are required to submit their monthly inventory reports to the DA.

Each task force shall be composed of the local chief executive of the local government unit (LGU) concerned as chair, with the local chief of police and one representative each from the local office of the DA, the farmers’ sector, and local consumers’ organization as members. Under the measure, the refusal to allow these task forces to conduct monitoring activities shall be prima facie evidence of hoarding and/or profiteering.

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