NFA officials earlier said they are exploring their options in questioning the law before the Supreme Court.
Geremy Pintolo/File
Don’t delay rice tariffication, Piñol warned
Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - February 25, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol was warned yesterday not to delay or derail the implementation of the landmark rice tariffication law, which he had opposed when it was being deliberated in Congress.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the economic affairs committee and one of the authors of Republic Act (RA) 11203, defended the law as a major solution to the unstable price and supply of rice in the country amid the strong opposition of Piñol and the National Food Authority (NFA).

“Secretary Piñol, please cooperate fully in implementing the law,” Gatchalian told dzBB when asked about the possibility of officials from the Department of Agriculture (DA) delaying the law’s implementation.

“He must work for the success of the law even if he’s against it,” Gatchalian said.

NFA officials earlier said they are exploring their options in questioning the law before the Supreme Court.

RA 11203 replaces the quantitative restrictions imposed by the government on rice imports with a 35 percent tariff as required by the World Trade Organization.

The law also allocated P10 billion annually for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for six years to be extended to farmers for various initiatives including mechanization, educations, provision of choice fertilizers and seeds.

The senator also warned that he would scrutinize the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) that the DA and National Economic and Development Authority are expected to issue in the next 30 to 90 days to make sure the IRR remains faithful to the intent of the law in ensuring stable rice supply and lower prices while supporting the local farmers as well as enhancing the country’s competitiveness in producing the staple.

Gatchalian said the country’s uncertain rice supply and the poor competitiveness of local farmers have been an issue in government for decades.

He said DA and NFA officials have been “countering and countering” the Rice Tariffication law for a long time but “have not presented any credible solution.”

Gatchalian said the law is expected to lead to a reduction of rice prices by P2 to P7 per kilo.

He said another law providing for free irrigation to farmers would also help improve the country’s rice production.

About half of the country’s rice-producing regions have already become as productive as Thailand and Vietnam in growing the staple, Gatchalian noted.

This means that the regions can easily compete with imports and with the RCEF helping the other provinces, it is possible that the country will have almost no need to import rice in the future, Gatchalian maintained.

Meanwhile, reelectionist Sen. Nancy Binay and former senator Juan Ponce Enrile raised issues on the Rice Tariffication law yesterday in Bulacan.

Binay noted that the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration has warned of a possible dry spell in the first quarter of this year due to the developing El Niño phenomenon.

For his part, Enrile cautioned the government in its importation of rice.

“When you bring in too much commodity from the outside, you deprive local farmers of their source of livelihood, so we should be using tariffs to protect them,” Enrile maintained. 

Enrile said rice could be imported from other countries at low levels of tariff. – With Ramon Efren Lazaro

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