Duterte defends rice tariffication bill before industry stakeholders

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 07 2019 07:06 PM | Updated as of Feb 07 2019 07:24 PM

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the Rice Tariffication Bill before stakeholders in the rice industry who had asked the chief executive to veto the proposed measure.

Duterte met with rice industry stakeholders in Malacañang on Wednesday, Feb. 6, where sector representatives asked the President to reconsider his push for the bill’s enactment into law.

The measure removes non-tariff barriers for rice imports, allowing a free flow of the staple into the Philippine market.

Duterte certified the bill as urgent in October last year, as the country's inflation quickened to its fastest pace in nearly a decade as food costs, particularly the price of rice, surged.

Stakeholders are concerned tariffication would hurt the local rice industry.

But Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President believes rice tariffication is “for the greater good.”

“Sabi ni Presidente sa kanila, ‘eh puwedeng maapektuhan kayo, but iyong kabuuan ng mga Pilipino ang inaalala ko,’” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.

(The President told them 'you might be affected, but I am thinking about the welfare of Filipinos.)

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said even when the Rice Tariffication Bill becomes a law, measures will be in place to protect the welfare of the local rice industry.

The President has said the proposed measure would address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortages, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.

Finance Assistant Secretary Tony Lambino earlier said the bill would be key in bringing down rice prices by P2 to P7 per kilo.

The proposed measure also aims to remove the need for rice importers to get import licenses from the National Food Authority, one of the reasons for high rice prices, Lambino said.

Lambino outlined three benefits of imposing tariffs on rice: lower prices, lower inflation, and resources to support farmers. He said the central bank estimates this could cut the inflation rate by 0.7 percentage point within 2019 once the bill is passed into law.

The tariffs to be collected, meanwhile, will be used to help improve the lives of farmers, among the poorest sectors in the country.

Economic managers have called the removal of rice import quotas as an important measure to bring down prices of the staple and help control inflation.

AGRARIAN REFORM, AID TO FARMERS

Meanwhile, Duterte also discussed with the Cabinet ways to streamline the land use conversion process, a recent source of frustration for the President.

Panelo said the Department of Agrarian Reform talked about streamlining internal processes of all agencies involved in conversion, including the imposition of definite timelines for transactions such as the processing of government permits.

He revealed that the President, at one point during the Cabinet meeting, had an “outburst” and excused himself from the meeting.

The President has been complaining of the sluggish pace in resolving the land use conversion cases and has threatened to fire agrarian reform officials over this.

During the meeting, the President also declared that he wants New People’s Army rebel-returnees to benefit from the next round of land distribution by the government.

The Cabinet also discussed programs for improving the lives of farmers and fisherfolk.

The agriculture chief reported a “bucket list” for implementation, including farm-to-market roads, irrigation, which includes a solar-powered irrigation system to be financed by an Israeli company, storage facilities, activation of regional food terminals and strengthening the roll-on, roll-off program, easy access credit for farmers, institutionalization of a farmer and fisherfolk credit union, and the creation of a cabinet cluster headed by the President.