By Charissa Luci-Atienza, Hannah Torregoza, and Lee Chipongian
Speaker Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo sought Sunday the proper and full implementation of the Rice Tariffication Act to benefit everyone, citing that it would further help tame inflation.
The former President cheered at President Duterte’s signing of the Rice Tariffication Act on Friday.
“I am happy that President Duterte has signed into law the Rice Tariffication Act. It will further help in easing the inflation which has hit the poor the most,” she said.
“Now we can focus on its proper implementation so that everyone can and should benefit from the law,” Arroyo said.
But former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile urged the government to brace for the negative impact of the rice tariffication law on local farmers, warning that the “over supply” of rice could adversely affect them following its implementation.
Camarines Sur Rep. Luis RaymundVillafuerte, co-author of the rice tariffication measure, agreed with Arroyo, saying that the law would help expand the access of Filipinos to cheap rice.
“This will, in turn, prevent a repeat of the 2018 inflation surge brought in large part by the supply shortfall and the subsequent retail price increase of rice,” he said.
“Rice tariffication will benefit poor households the most, given that rice accounts for 20 percent of their consumption,” Villafuerte said, noting that inflation began to ease in the latter part of 2018 and is expected to drop even further this year following the decisive steps taken by President Duterte to remove administrative constraints on food imports and narrow the gap between farmgate and retail prices of rice and other foodstuff.
Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate expressed serious concern that the newly signed law would serve as a death warrant to the country’s agriculture.
“With the rice tariffication, the rice cartels can tighten their hold on the price of rice as well as the supply. Angmangyayarisapresyo ng bigas ay matutuladsapresyuhan ng langisnaparatingtumataasdependesa international market dahil mas dun nakasalalayang supply,” he said.
He said the rice cartel and the foreign rice suppliers will only benefit from the law.
“Mapanlinlangangtariffication scheme naitodahilhindiitopaborsamahihirapna Pilipino; ang cartel at dayuhangmga rice suppliers langangmagigingmasayadito,” Zarate said.
“Angdapatsananggawin ay palakasin pa ang NFA para mas maramisiyangmabilingpalaysamgalokalnamagsasakasa mas mataasnahalaga.Saganitongparaan ay hindimapipilitangmagbentaangmgamagsasakasakartel ng bigas,” he said.
Congress ratified the measure on November 28, and transmitted it to Malacanang on January 15 for the President’s signature.
Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel “KaAyik” Casilao earlier said he would file a bill that would repeal the law after 15 days upon its publication or the date it shall legally effect.
“I would like to save the government the effort of crafting its implementing rules and regulations, and will promptly file for the repeal,” he said.
Casilao branded the law as a “tombstone for the Philippine rice industry” as it would impact the livelihood and welfare of 2.4 million rice farmers and more farm workers.
“This will undermine the P350 billion – 19 million metric ton – palay sector. This is clearly betrayal of the people’s and national interest,” he said.
Farmers at risk
Under the law, restrictions are lifted and the National Food Authority (NFA) can no longer monopolize rice importation because private sectors would now be allowed to import rice.
The tariff is mandated at 35 percent for rice from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 50 percent for non-ASEAN countries.
As a safeguard, revenues from the tariffs will go to a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or RCEF with an annual funding of P10-billion to protect the rice industry from sudden or extreme price fluctuations.
Enrile warned that when the government allows too much commodity to enter the country from the outside, local farmers are at risk of losing their source of livelihood.
“If you bring in too much commodity from the outside, you deprive local farmers of their source of livelihood, so we should be using tariffs to protect them,” Enrile said.
“Farmers will not incur losses if (the government) only adheres to the rice tariffication law and relates (the tariffs) to the reasonable price of the commodity in the country,” said Enrile.
“Now, if you would neglect that, and anybody can bring and supply that commodity in our country, our farmers would suffer losses and prices would go down because you plant more than what is needed to cover the demand and that should be the standard of the tariff you need to enforce,” stressed Enrile.
He said the government should make sure that rice importers will strictly follow the requirements for agricultural and food safety to ensure the protection of the local farmers and the agriculture sector.
He also suggested enacting a “minimum access volume” above which higher tariffs would be implemented.
“We agree that we will allow a so-called minimum access volume for a product like rice to be exported from other countries at a very low level of tariffs,” said Enrile, who was also a former finance secretary.
“Now, anything above that minimum access volume should not be allowed to come in if we have sufficient supply. Without sufficient supply, we can allow it to come in but we can subject it to tariffs,” he pointed out.
BangkoSentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo said the rice tariffication law will reduce inflation rate by 0.6 percentage point (ppt) this year and 0.3-0.4 ppt in 2020.
“The important point here is that the government is about to complete the IRR (implementing rules and regulation) to ensure quick implementation of the law. Truly a very graphic sign of the government’s serious effort to protect price stability for the people,” said Guiniundo.
He said the impact to inflation rate for 2019 and 2020 is enough to ensure the level will stay within the two-four percent target.
“It’s split because the implementation is already close to the end of the first quarter. With the tariff collection, a fund would be established to help the farmers achieve greater efficiency and productivity in agriculture,” said Guinigundo.
“They are therefore expected to be more competitive,” he added. “This is a landmark legislation that would help greatly in rationalizing rice farming in the Philippines. After all, the farmers are also consumers, and, together with the other 100 million Filipinos, will benefit from lower rice prices.” (Manila Bulletin)