I am one with lawmakers and other concerned quarters who have rebuffed Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for claiming that the National Food Authority (NFA) would be prevented from selling to the public rice at cheap prices with the inevitable enactment into law of the Rice Tariffication Bill.
The bill, which was already approved on third and final reading by both Houses of Congress, was principally authored by Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the committee on food and agriculture and who chided Piñol “because the NFA is not anymore allowed to import rice under the new law but only allowed to buy from local farmers.” Senate Bill No. 1998 seeks to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 and replace the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports. The bill is also among the measures pushed by the economic managers of the Duterte administration to address high rice prices.
Before this, no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself said that even with rice tariffication and liberalization of the rice industry, the NFA shall continue to provide the public particularly the less fortunate with rice that is affordable and safe.
Once the bill is signed by Duterte, Villar said the NFA will be directed to buy ‘palay’ from our local farmers and together with DA to focus on developing a cost-efficient system that will help reduce the production cost of locally-produced rice and stabilize rice prices. In addition, she said the rice subsidy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development amounting to P28 billion should be bought from the local farmers. Sen. Joel Villanueva, also an author of the bill, said the new law could curb rice smuggling, a plague which he said had long been infecting this country.
The QR on importation of rice by the Philippines allowed by the World Trade Organization expired on June 30, 2017 and the lifting of the QR, according to Villar, would also remove all “unnecessary intervention” of the government in the rice market, adding that the Philippines has to liberalize the importation of rice so the Philippine Congress passed the law on Rice Tarification to protect the Filipino farmers from imported rice.
As per agreement, the tariff will be 30 percent on rice imports from Asean countries and 50 percent from the rest of the world. The proceeds from the tariff will be given to the farmers in the amount of P10 billion a year for the next six years to make the farmers competitive by mechanization (P5 billion), better seed production (P3 billion) cheaper credit from Landbank of the Philippines and Development Bank of the Philippines (P1billion).
Ten percent (10 percent) shall be made available for the extension services provided by PhilMech, PhilRice, Agricutural Training Institute and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority for teaching skills on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, farm mechanization and knowledge/technology transfer through farm schools nationwide as follows: 70 percent to TESDA, 10 percent each to ATI, PhilRice and PhilMech.
Villar, also informed Pinol that the NFA will not be abolished with the implementation of the rice tariffication bill. She said that only the regulatory and importation functions of the NFA will be removed, but the agency will remain to solely focus on buffer-stocking with its inventory acquired from domestic farmers.
‘There is no provision in the rice tariffication on the abolition of the NFA. We think it will limit its role to buffer-stocking, buying from the local farmers, but no abolition. We want to keep the buffer-stocking except that now the NFA is required to buy it from local farmers, not importing,” Villar pointed out.
Still according to the senator, the budget for the NFA should be pegged at around P7 billion, strictly for the maintenance of a buffer stock to stabilize the rice supply and allow it to sell subsidized rice to the poor and to release emergency supplies during periods of calamity.
Contrary to misconceptions, she said the bill includes a package of support programs that will help farmers adjust to competition under a tariffied regime.
Under the act, Villar said Filipino farmers will have a fighting chance against farmers from neighboring ASEAN countries as cheaper rice will start flooding the market, adding that she will not agree to liberalize rice importation without any help because they (farmers) will be the losers.
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