“THE stomach comes first. So the policy of the government is to keep the people, keep them away from hunger.”
So said President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday as he stressed the need to augment the country’s rice supply through importation as he maintained that the Philippines will never achieve sufficiency of the staple because of shrinking farmlands.
Duterte told reporters in Davao City upon his arrival from Bali, Indonesia where he attended the ASEAN Leaders’ Gathering.
“So we have to import, whether we like it or not and we have to plan. But frankly, I do not think that we will be rice sufficient. I don’t know in the years to come. The problem is ‘yung mga large tracts of land have been converted into cash crop, export. Lahat ‘yan. So cash crop pati food crop.”
Duterte ordered an “unimpeded importation of rice” so that even if crude prices go up further, the people will have access to affordable rice,” according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Tuesday.
Roque said the decision to liberalize rice importation also eliminates the National Food Authority’s (NFA) power to accredit importers and to determine how much rice should be imported.
The President said he wants Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to come up with a “formula” that will balance the need for rice importation with the interests of local rice producers.
“Maybe during harvest time or a later period after that. There must be space for the local products to be bought and consumed,” Duterte said.
The President added he pushed for importation since the issue of rice shortage came up months ago.
“But would you believe it or not, it really happened and I was the first one who ordered the importation. Merong gusto, merong hindi [among Cabinet members]. And I said, look if your inventory is that high, you make it up there. Anyway, kakainin ‘yan eh,” he said.
Duterte on Wednesday certified the rice tarrification bill as urgent in order to facilitate the passage of the proposed measure to help temper inflation.
He cited the “urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”
Bills certified as urgent by the President can sail smoothly through the legislative process when certain rules are dispensed with such as approving on third and final reading a proposed measure only after the second reading.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the bill in August while a counterpart bill is pending before the Senate.