MANILA — The government will only import rice after the local harvest, Malacañang said on Thursday, as farmer expressed concern over President Rodrigo Duterte's move to slash tariffs on imported supply of the staple grain.
A group of farmers had said lower tariffs would make imported rice cheaper than its local counterpart, which would force Filipino producers to lower their wholesale price and potentially lose billions in revenue.
"Paunawa po sa ating mga producers, pero hinding-hindi naman po tayo mag-aangkat sa panahon ng harvest," said Palace spokesman Harry Roque.
"Hihintayin na muna natin na matapos ang harvest nang sa ganoon ay hindi maapektuhan ang presyo ng bentahan ng mga magsasaka sa merkado," he said in a press briefing.
(This is a notice to our producers, but we won't import during harvest time. We will wait for the harvest to finish so that the farmers' price rates in the market will not be affected.)
At least 5 senators earlier urged Duterte to withdraw his executive order that lowers rice tariffs to 35 percent from 40 percent in-quota, and 50 percent out-quota for one year.
Farmers reaped a record harvest of palay in the first quarter of the year, the agriculture department said this week.
But the Philippines still faces a 10-percent shortfall in its rice supply, which prompted Duterte to cut tariffs, said Roque.
"Ang iniiwasan nga natin is iyong maapektuhan iyong ating rice security," he said.
(What we are avoiding is to have our rice security affected.)
"Ito po ay para masiguro na iyong 10 percent na kakailanganin pa natin despite the bumper harvest this year ay makukuha natin sa mababang halaga. Kaya po bahagyang ibinaba ang taripa dahil kung tataas na naman po iyong presyo ng bigas, eh makakaapekto na naman iyan, magresulta sa mas mataas na inflation."
(This is to ensure that we will fill the 10 percent shortfall, despite the bumper harvest this year, at a lower price. The tariff was slightly increased because if the price of rice will spike again, that will affect, quicken inflation.)
Roque pointed out that during the COVID-19 lockdown in April last year, Duterte had to call the prime minister of Vietnam so that the Philippines could import rice at a higher rate while the local supply fell short.