Police units in South Cotabato province have set up additional checkpoints in various entry and exit points of the area to strengthen their ongoing monitoring against the possible entry of smuggled imported rice in the local markets.
Reynaldo Legaste, South Cotabato provincial agriculturist, said such move was part of the initial interventions set by a special task force that was established recently by the provincial government to help monitor and prevent the distribution of smuggled rice products in the area.
Dubbed Task Force Butil, he said the special body was specifically after the reported entry of 2,334 metric tons of Vietnam rice that arrived at the Makar Port here late last year.
The NFA provincial office earlier said the entry of the rice products, which were reportedly consigned to two cooperatives based in Capiz province, was considered illegal.
"We don't know where these smuggled rice products were stocked or if some of them had already entered our markets. But our intensified monitoring is presently ongoing and there are also investigations being made as to the illegal rice importation," Legaste said.
The official said the task force has deputized police units in the province as its enforcement arm and mandated them to establish checkpoints in parts of the area's national highways that serve as entry and exit points in the area.
He said the initial checkpoints were set up in portions of the General Santos City-Koronadal City (South Cotabato), Koronadal City-Isulan (Sultan Kudarat) and Koronadal City-Tacurong City (Sultan Kudarat) highways.
Legaste, who coordinates the task force's operations, said they have direct contact with police teams manning the checkpoints.
"We've set mandatory inspections for all truckers and haulers passing by our area," he said.
He said they intensified their operations against the smuggled imported rice products to make sure that they would not disrupt this year's initial palay harvest season that was projected to begin later this month and last until April.
"We're expecting a good harvest season so we really need to ensure that our farmers and markets are protected from these illegal products," Legaste said.
The official urged residents to assist them in monitoring the movement of the smuggled Vietnam rice and immediately report any relevant information on the matter.
He assured that the task force would carefully verify and validate any information or tip regarding the distribution of smuggled rice and illegal rice importation.
"Our (local) economy is much dependent on farming so if this sector would take a hit from this illegal activity, money circulation and local business transactions would also be affected," Legaste said.
Guialudin Usman, NFA-South Cotabato provincial manager, earlier said they received reports that the illegal Vietnam white rice shipment managed to enter the Makar Port here sometime in November 2012.
He said the shipment was consigned to the Agraca Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries Multi-Purpose Cooperative and Sta. Cruz Consolacion Irrigators Multi-Purpose Cooperative, which are both based in Barangay San Rafael of Dumalag town in Capiz.
"The shipment was already released to an unidentified trader. We're still determining if these products were out in the markets already," he said.
Meantime, aside from the activation of the checkpoints, Legaste said the task force is set to launch "marathon ocular inspections" in different private warehouses and public markets all over the province.