House considers repeal of rice tariffication law
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano revealed this yesterday as he personally received a petition signed by 50,000 farmers seeking to have the law repealed to normalize the farmgate prices of palay, which reached a low of P7 per kilo.
The STAR/Michael Varcas /File
House considers repeal of rice tariffication law
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - November 20, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives is considering the possible repeal of Republic Act 11203 or Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) as an option to address the crisis facing local rice farmers.

Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano revealed this yesterday as he personally received a petition signed by 50,000 farmers seeking to have the law repealed to normalize the farmgate prices of palay, which reached a low of P7 per kilo.

Cayetano assured the farmers, led by agricultural organization Bantay Bigas, that the House will consider the proposal and that it would be referred to the committee on agriculture and food for deliberation.

The House leader told them he was “open” to the idea of repealing the law and that Congress has been doing its part to help address the rice crisis.

Earlier this month, the House approved a joint resolution allowing the use of nearly P10 billion in additional funds this year for palay buying to prop up the price of the produce of millions of rice farmers.

Under Joint Resolution 19, a total of P9.9 billion would be turned over to the National Food Authority (NFA) to augment its palay procurement budget. The measure mandates that the P600 rice subsidy per month for beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps would be pooled and used by the NFA to buy palay from farmers at P19 per kilo.

The House also announced that P3 billion from rice importation taxes would be used as additional subsidy to be distributed to rice farmers before Christmas.

The signatures in the petition were gathered since last month from farm areas across the country, especially in top rice-producing provinces like Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Iloilo, Camarines Sur, Tarlac and Leyte.

“We strongly hope that the House of Representatives heeds the noble demands of the Filipino people for the attainment of national food security based on self-sufficiency and self-reliance, free from import-dependence and grounded on strengthened tenurial rights of rice farmers in the country,” read the petition.

The Rice Tariffication law removed quantitative restrictions on the volume of imported rice, imposing tariffs on rice imports instead. This allows anyone to import rice as long as the 35 to 45 percent import taxes are paid.

But the militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) believed the government could actually suspend rice importation if it has political will and decisiveness to aid farmers.

“There are doable, legal remedies that will allow the immediate suspension of rice importation. First, the government must immediately suspend and review the implementation of RA 11203 or the Rice Liberalization law. To effectively suspend rice importation, Congress must urgently approve a House Joint Resolution suspending the issuance of phytosanitary permits to rice importers,” said its leader, Rafael Mariano.

But the research and advocacy group Action for Economic Reforms (AER) is calling on Duterte to stay the course in implementing the Rice Tariffication Law and not suspend the nine-month-old legislation. It claimed that a reversal would just allow traders and hoarders to take advantage of the situation.

“Rice traders who anticipate a reversal of the law are hoarding rice, depressing farmgate prices to the detriment of Filipino rice farmers. Halting implementation would only play into their hands,” AER said in a statement. “To counter this, strong signals must be sent as regards the certainty and consistency of this reform.”

AER maintained that the government must not renege on its policy commitment towards making rice more accessible and affordable for Filipino consumers while putting in place strategic measures that will address the farmers’ plight. – With Rhodina Villanueva, Louise Maureen Simeon, Delon Porcalla

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