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MANILA, Philippines – House appropriations committee senior vice chairperson Stella Quimbo filed a measure on Tuesday, September 5, seeking to allow the Philippine president to put the country under a national rice emergency when circumstances are dire.
Under House Bill No. 9030, the conditions are when there is (1) an extreme shortage in rice supply, (2) a sustained increase in rice prices, or (3) an extraordinary increase in rice prices.
The national rice emergency would have a cap of six months, and would be automatically lifted after that period without action needed from the president or Congress.
The said bill also seeks to make numerous amendments to Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law to take into consideration the proposed national rice emergency.
The bill states that during a rice emergency, the entire Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) could be used “for programs that will respond to the economic crisis, subject to the approval of the Department of Agriculture, including the provision of cash assistance to farmers and other affected sectors.”
The RCEF under the current law can be used in the form of rice farm equipment, seeds, credit assistance, and extension services, but not explicitly for direct payouts to farmers.
Under an emergency, the National Food Authority would also be authorized to import to maintain sufficient rice buffer stock, subject to the president’s approval.
Funding for this would come from unutilized funds from the current and previous two fiscal years of the National Rice Program.
The President could also ask Congress to subject all rice imports to reduced or zero tariffs, as long as rice tariff collections for the fiscal year have been met, or the landed cost of imported rice exceeds the domestic cost of milled rice in the case of zero tariffs.
Unscrupulous individuals who would be found guilty of illegal price manipulation of rice during an emergency would face jail time of up to 30 years, and fine of up to P100 million.
“With the President’s directive to control the price of rice, it remains essential to remove legal and funding constraints that government agencies will face in performing this mandate. The bill serves this purpose,” Quimbo said.
“It is a strategic set of solutions— a comprehensive tool kit —that seeks to shield consumers and our local farmers, as well as traders, during tight conditions in the rice market,” the lawmaker from Marikina’s 2nd District added.
The proposal comes as the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. grapples with what Malacañang describes as an “alarming increase in the retail price” of rice, supposedly due to market manipulation by smugglers and hoarders.”
He said there was no reason for rice prices to increase since July.
They said the price ceiling would be used by traders to justify lowering the buying prices of rice from farmers.
House Speaker Martin Romualdez said on Monday, September 4, that the administration is planning to allot P2 billion from the 2023 budget to assist rice retailers affected by the government’s price cap on the national staple. – Rappler.com