Scrap RA 11203?
PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero-Ballescas (The Freeman) - September 7, 2019 - 12:00am

Signed last February, 2019, Republic Act No. 11203 (which amended Republic Act 8178, known as the 1996 Agricultural Tariffication Act) is “an act liberalizing the importation, exportation and trading of rice, lifting for the purpose the quantitative import restriction on rice, and for other purposes.”

Rather than limiting “the amount of rice that will enter the country, rice imports will instead be charged with corresponding tariffs, the collected amount of which shall be given to farmers to strengthen their productive capacities in the amount of at least P10 billion a year, for the next six years, through the RCEF (Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.”

The tariff from rice imports will be 35% from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), 40% percent from non-ASEAN countries if imports are below 350,000 metric tons, and 180% percent if imports are from non-ASEAN countries and above 350,000 metric tons.

Many groups are now asking either for the review or for the scrapping of this law in the midst of cries from farmers adversely affected by the plummeting prices of palay. The affected farmers and supporters point to this law as the cause of the palay price fall (to as low as P7 or P8). The palay price is even lower than the price for the feed for hogs (darak)!

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, however, said such a review was not needed. Calling Republic Act 11203 as “one of the most important legislative achievements of the 17th Congress and the Duterte administration,” Dominguez said, “let the rice liberalization law, which is three decades late, do its work and give the economy time to adjust for the further easing of rice prices for more than 100 million Filipinos. We should also implement the rice fund efficiently and effectively for our 2 to 3 million rice farmers.”

In an ongoing Senate hearing, RA 11203 proponent, a disbelieving Senator Cynthia Villar, sarcastically refuted the veracity of the reports about the P7 to P8 palay price. When various groups reported recent field data that confirmed the extremely low prices in Nueva Ecija and other areas, Villar pointed to “disaster” as affecting palay prices, not her law. Her contention: No one will pay a high price for palay that got wet due to the floods/rains.

According to a newspaper report dated August 28, during a Senate hearing by the agriculture and food committee chaired by Villar to determine the impact of the liberalization of rice importation, exportation and trade, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Judy Carol Dansal (contrary to Villar’s contention that a disaster prevented buyers from offering high prices for the produce of our local farmers) clearly admitted NFA was not buying palay from local farmers because it had 4 million bags of imported rice unsold and stocked in its warehouses!

Dansal said of the 1.2 million metric tons (MT) of rice imported by government last year to fill up its dwindling buffer stock, 290,000 MT have not been sold. Dansal further shared that “from January to August this year, the NFA purchased 293,642 MT of rice worth P6 billion.”

In that hearing, Villar pointed to the NFA as a factor affecting rice prices. “You are supposed to buy and sell to stabilize the prices of rice. You are part of this mess. People are blaming you.”

Aside from disaster and the NFA as affecting palay prices, Villar also points to the slow disbursement of the RCEF (only P1B of the P5B released been credited to farmers).

Villar and the government contend RA11230 is not harming our farmers. Do you agree? Many others disagree, especially the affected farmers.

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