Marcos to certify rice tariffication amendments

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Marcos to certify rice tariffication amendments
Workers store sacks of local premium rice at a rice mill warehouse in Bocaue, Bulacan on September 8, 2023.
STAR / Michael Varcas

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos yesterday expressed readiness to certify as urgent the proposed amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), citing the need for the government to have a say in the pricing and selling of the staple.

The Rice Tariffication Act of 2019 stripped the National Food Authority (NFA) of its regulatory and import licensing issuance functions and limited its role to emergency buffer stocking of rice bought from local farmers.

It also permitted the private sector to freely import rice subject to a tariff.

Due to recent spikes in rice prices, some lawmakers – including Speaker Martin Romualdez – are seeking changes in the policy.

In pushing for changes, Romualdez estimated that the prices of the food staple would drop by P10 to P15 or near the P30 per kilogram mark if the law were amended.

Speaking to reporters in Pasay City, Marcos said amendments to the Rice Tariffication Act and the NFA charter would allow the government to influence the pricing of rice.

“It is something that has come up... The problem is the prices of rice increase because traders are competing. They try to outdo each other in setting high prices when buying palay (unhusked rice) and we do not have control over that,” the President said when asked about the proposed amendments.

“If we have amendments to the NFA charter and the Rice Tariffication Law, we could control, we would have an influence on the pricing of the palay to be purchased and the selling of rice. So, that’s what we are going to do,” he added.

Pressed if he would certify the amendment of the law as urgent, Marcos replied: “Yes, I think it justifies an urgent certification.”

Romualdez previously said the House aimed to lower the price of rice to close to P30 per kilo by June.

Data from the agriculture department showed that the price of local commercial rice ranges from P48 to P66 per kilogram while that of imported commercial rice ranges from P48 to P65 per kilogram as of May 3.

Marcos’ declaration was welcomed by agriculture officials. “We welcome the amendments of the RTL as its effectivity will end this year. It became effective in March 2019 after it was passed into law in the same year,” Agriculture Assistant Secretary and spokesman Arnel de Mesa said in a chance interview.

“It will depend on Congress on what amendments will be introduced in the existing provisions of the Rice Tariffication Law,” De Mesa added.

At a hearing yesterday by the House committee on agriculture, Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. stressed the need for the restoration of the regulatory and commercial functions of the NFA.

Furthermore, Tiu Laurel disclosed that the NFA must be allowed to import rice again but only through the authority of the agriculture secretary to avert unnecessary losses.

“At the moment, no way for anybody in the government to do market intervention which is needed during drastic times in our world history,” Tiu Laurel told the House committee on agriculture yesterday.

Tiu Laurel led the DA contingent during the third hearing of the committee on the proposed amendment to RA 11203.

Administration allies in the House of Representatives were elated by Marcos’ statement. Deputy Speaker David Suarez and Rep. Francisco Paolo Ortega V described the Chief Executive’s latest pronouncements as a “welcome development.”

“This is in line with the directives of Speaker Martin. Amending the Rice Tariffication Law is one sure step that we can have more competitive prices for Filipinos,” Suarez told reporters.

Ortega, of La Union’s first district, said he was glad to hear from no less than Tiu Laurel of the necessity to modify the law and make it more attuned to the current situation on the ground.

Ortega cited the explanation of the DA chief regarding the effect of more frequent periods of El Niño. “It’s an element not contained in the policy, but an element of something that is crucial to the amendment,” he said.

“So there is frequency even in the supply, even the demand will be affected, even the production will also be affected. This is crucial and very important,” he added.

Former agriculture chief Manny Piñol also lauded Marcos for expressing his readiness to certify proposed amendments to the RTL.

“I am thankful to President Marcos because finally the call of the consumers and farmers were finally heard that there should be amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law because RTL actually was a legislation crafted without consultation with the stakeholders of the rice industry,” Piñol said at a press briefing.

“That was why, in 2018, the retail price of rice was only P38 per kilo. The proponents of the RTL promised to bring it down to P7 (per kilo). What happened? The retail price of rice is now P60 and the current administration is being blamed when the truth is that this problem started when the economic managers of the previous administration rammed down our throats this idea of liberalizing the rice industry instead of protecting our local rice industry and protecting the consumers,” Piñol said.

He said Marcos was correct in calling for the amendment of the RTL.

For his part, farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) executive director Jayson Cainglet proposed to increase from P10 billion to P30 billion annually the fund allotted to farmers.

“Sinag is proposing to increase the fund allotment from P10 billion to P30 billion a year so more public support can be given to our rice farmers and the local rice industry,” he said.

But for Gabriela Women’s party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas, the RTL should be repealed and not just amended, saying it “falls short of addressing the root cause of the crisis.” — Bella Cariaso, Sheila Crisostomo, Delon Porcalla, Jasper Emmanuel Arcalas

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