Philippine agriculture

Senators want Duterte to scrap EO lowering taxes on imported rice

Mara Cepeda
Senators want Duterte to scrap EO lowering taxes on imported rice

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Five senators argue there is 'no reasonable and sufficient basis to reduce the tariff rates on rice'

Another clash between senators and the executive branch may be brewing after five legislators urged President Rodrigo Duterte to revoke his executive order (EO) lowering tariffs on imported rice. 

On Wednesday, May 19, Senator Francis Pangilinan led four other senators in filing Proposed Senate Resolution (PSR) No. 726, which asks Duterte to withdraw his EO No. 135 because there is “no reasonable and sufficient basis to reduce the tariff rates on rice.”

Other authors of PSR 726 include Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, and Risa Hontiveros.

Pangilinan, Drilon, De Lima, and Hontiveros all belong to the Senate minority bloc. 

Duterte’s EO 135 lowers the Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff rates for imported rice from 40% to 35%.

Malacañang said the goal is “to diversify the country’s market sources, augment rice supply, maintain prices affordable, and reduce pressures on inflation.”

But the five senators pointed out that Agriculture Secretary William Dar himself earlier said there is an “ample” supply of rice in the Philippines following a record harvest in 2020.

They also cited the National Food Authority’s earlier statement saying lowering the tariffs on imported rice is “not sufficient to ‘warrant’ or guarantee the projected supply of rice in the country.”

The senators argued EO 135 would ultimately be a “burden” on local farmers who receive assistance from the government through the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The RCEF is financed through collected taxes from rice imports.

“Since the RCEF depends on the annual tariff revenues from rice importation, the lowering of tariffs would result in a lower collection which would affect the appropriations for rice farmer financial assistance, titling of agricultural rice lands, expanded crop insurance program on rice, and/or crop diversification program under Republic Act No. 11203,” said the senators. 

Though only five senators have co-authored PSR 726, other members of the chamber have already expressed disapproval of the plan to lower rice import taxes. 

Senate agriculture committee chairperson Cynthia Villar said in a hearing last February that the Senate “in unison” does not want lower tariffs, even telling Dar to find another way to lower inflation.

This isn’t the first time that senators staunchly disagreed with the Duterte government’s policies on agriculture.

On May 11, Duterte was forced to tweak tariff rates and the minimum access volume of imported pork after Cabinet members and senators clashed over the matter.

Senators initially wanted to revoke Duterte’s EO on pork imports, but the economic managers were able to forge a compromise deal with the lawmakers. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.