House OKs bill restoring NFA power to import rice

Delon Porcalla - The Philippine Star
House OKs bill restoring NFA power to import rice
A worker arranges sacks of rice at a warehouse of the National Food Authority in Balagtas, Bulacan yesterday.
Miguel De Guzman

MANILA, Philippines —  Administration lawmakers approved on third and final reading on Tuesday the measure amending provisions of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) in the hope of substantially bringing down the price of rice in the retail market.

House Bill 10381 was approved in plenary via a 231-3 vote with one abstention, which proposes to amend Republic Act 8178 (Agricultural Tariffication Act) as well as the five-year-old RTL (Republic Act 11203).

The measure was approved overwhelmingly, with the objective to amend certain provisions in the RTL and bring back the power of the National Food Authority (NFA) to import as well as sell the staple in the market.

Speaker Martin Romualdez said the move is aimed at making “high-quality rice affordable” to every Filipino.

“This bill is not just a policy change; it is a powerful pledge to every Filipino. We are committed to ensuring that rice – our staple food – remains affordable and accessible to all,” Romualdez said.

Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House committee on agriculture and food security, earlier assured the senators and the public in general that they definitely have “safeguards” in restoring the power of the NFA in helping stabilize the price of rice.

“Before, the NFA had monopoly in terms of rice imports, they had monopoly in terms of regulation. I would like to assure our counterparts in the Senate that this is a different scenario,” he said.

House Deputy Speaker David Suarez of Quezon province and Rep. Jude Acidre of Tingog party-list expressed hope the Senate will change their mind about bringing the power back to NFA, citing the history of corruption the agency had in previous administrations.

“Let’s not forget this is not an issue of corruption, but rather an issue of food security and price of rice and we should bring our attention to the main agenda, which is the price of rice, which is food security, that should be our focus,” Suarez said.

Acidre said the passage of the amendments to RTL “is an important step for them (senators) to prove that we are also one in providing solutions to our problems.”

Former agriculture secretary Leonardo Montemayor in a radio interview yesterday asked the Senate to immediately act on the pending measures calling for amendments of RTL.

“The review and amendments of the RTL is necessary to correct the loopholes of the RTL,” Montemayor added.

Montemayor noted that prior to the implementation of the RTL, the country’s rice sufficiency level was at 90 percent but it went down to 77 percent.

“We did not achieve the purpose of the RTL to strengthen domestic production. In fact, it (local production) declined and the retail price of rice also increased,” Montemayor said.

Meanwhile, Farmers group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) urged Congress to increase the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to P30 billion from the current P10 billion.

“We are hoping that the P30 billion (allocated under RCEF) will be approved, which is based on our computation that will be collected in the rice tariffs in the next five years,” SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet.

Cainglet added that the P30 billion include P12-billion cash assistance to farmers tilling three hectares; P6 billion for inbred rice seed, development and propagation; P7 billion for rice farm machineries; P3 billion loan from Landbank and Development Bank of the Philippines; P1 billion for expended rice credit assistance and rice extension services.

“Even the rice imports will decrease, the P30 billion should be automatic so that there will be more direct benefit to the rice farmers. Even if the imports go down to 2.8 million metric tons, the tariff collection could still exceed P30 billion,” Cainglet added.-  Bella Cariaso

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