World News

Philippines' Arroyo leads crackdown on rice hoarding

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited prosecutors’ offices on Thursday to see charges laid against traders accused of hoarding rice, her latest intervention as Manila struggles to ensure stable food supplies.

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Arroyo demanded that she witness the filing of criminal charges at the Department of Justice against 33 people accused of hoarding, diverting subsidised rice and other illegal practices.

“I am just here to observe to make sure things go fast,” she told reporters.

The Justice Department has formed an anti-rice hoarding task force to lead the prosecution of those caught hoarding the commodity or diverting subsidised rice to commercial traders.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez told Reuters the criminal cases would be presented in court this week.

Arroyo’s government said it would continue to import the grain despite a surge in world prices to secure supplies ahead of traditional lean months from July to September.

Earlier this year, Arroyo personally contacted Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to secure up to 1.2 million tonnes of rice for this year.

She has ordered troops to supervise sales of subsidised rice and her government has asked fast food restaurants to serve half-portions of rice to cut wastage.

The Philippines is the world’s biggest importer and plans to buy at least 2.2 million tonnes this year. So far, it has spent $1 billion (512 million pounds) buying 1.7 million tonnes of rice for 2008.

It has allowed private importers to buy up to 163,000 tonnes of rice in a country-specific tender on May 9.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Alex Richardson