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Palace wonât withdraw order on lower rice tariff
Duterte made the decision to avert any possible rice shortage in the next months and avoid difficulty in importing rice from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, which tightened their exports last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The STAR/Michael Varcas, file

Palace won’t withdraw order on lower rice tariff

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - May 21, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang yesterday rejected the call of some senators to withdraw President Duterte’s executive order that lowers to 35 percent the tariff rates on imported rice for a year.

Duterte made the decision to avert any possible rice shortage in the next months and avoid difficulty in importing rice from neighboring Southeast Asian countries, which tightened their exports last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. cited Vietnam when it initially did not allow rice exports so it could proritize its own food security during the pandemic. Duterte had to take up the matter with Vietnam President Nguy?n Xuàn Phúc who agreed that the Philippines should still get supply but at much higher prices.

Duterte’s Executive Order 135 is meant to address the country’s rice shortfall of 10 percent, the Palace official said. “We are trying to prevent jeopardizing our own rice security, which is why we lowered the rates from 50 percent to 35 percent or equivalent of 15 percent lower,” Roque said in Filipino.

The measure is a cushion against inflation with a commitment from the President that the government will also ensure that local farmers and producers will still be able to sell their harvests competitively, he added.

Burden to farmers

The other day, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel filed Senate Resolution 726 urging Duterte to withdraw EO 135.

“There is no reasonable and sufficient basis to reduce the tariff rates on rice and it will only (pose an additional) burden (on) our rice farmers, further increase our import dependency, and cost the government millions in foregone revenue,” the resolution read.

“Lowering rice tariffs now might break the back of the Filipino rice farmers and the Philippine rice industry,” Pangilinan said.

At the same time, the former head of the National Food Authority Council stressed that EO 135 has not been published and he has not seen a copy of the executive order.
“Why would they lower the tariff when economic managers themselves were saying during our hearing on hog prices that there is a steady supply of rice?” Pangilinan said.

He added that Filipino rice farmers have been calling him up asking for his intervention on the executive order.

Pangilinan, as food security secretary of the previous Aquino administration, was able to lower rice inflation from 14.4 percent in 2014 to 0.10 percent in July 2015.

He noted that rice inflation has been low for the past seven months: October 2020, -0.5 percent; November 2020, -0.1 percent; December 2020, 0.1 percent; January 2021, 0.1 percent; February 2021, 0.5 percent; March 2021, 0.9 percent; and April 2021, -0.3 percent.
“The (EO) is a double whammy to our farmers. The Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund for them will be reduced and they will have many competitors in the market. It’s really a burden to them,” he said.

Pangilinan added that he was able to save the government P6 billion in public funds when he made the rice importation process transparent, accountable and competitive during his stint as presidential assistant on food security and agricultural modernization.

He stressed that the continuing liberalization of food and agricultural products now poses a bigger problem to the country. – Paolo Romero

PRESIDENT DUTERTE RICE
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