Philippine national budget 2024

DA, Marcos ‘do not support’ zero tariff plan on rice imports

Iya Gozum

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DA, Marcos ‘do not support’ zero tariff plan on rice imports

Small retailers sell rice for P41 and P45 per kilo inside the Carbon Market in Cebu City on September 14, 2023.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) House assistant minority leader Arlene Brosas expresses concern for farmers whose claim to cash assistance would be affected by a zero tariff plan on rice imports

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture (DA) does not agree with the Department of Finance’s (DOF) proposal to reduce tariffs on rice imports down to 0%– and no less than President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is serving concurrently as the DA chief, shares this stance. 

“The department does not support the 0% tariff. And that is the position of the President,” said Isabela 1st District Representative Tonypet Albano, speaking on behalf of the DA during the House plenary debates on Monday, September 25. 

The zero tariff plan was proposed by the DOF to supposedly help reduce the price of rice. This proposal came after the much-contested executive order of the President which imposed a price cap on regular and well-milled rice affecting many rice retailers nationwide. 

Even the mere lowering of tariffs, as earlier suggested by National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, was thumbed down by the President.

Following a meeting with NEDA on Tuesday, September 26, Marcos said, “We decided with the agriculture and economic managers that…it was not the right time to lower tariff rates because the projection of world rice prices is that it will go down.”

According to the press release from the Presidential Communications Office, Balisacan, along with DA undersecretaries Leocadio Sebastian and Mercedita Sombilla, agreed during the meeting with the President about the inopportuneness of lowering tariffs.

During the House plenary debates, assistant minority leader Arlene Brosas was saying the zero tariff plan will have negative implications on farmers, who already experience delays in getting cash assistance from excess tariff revenues.

Delays in cash assistance

Under the law, tariff revenues from rice imports would form the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which would be used to upgrade rice farm machinery and equipment, promote seed development, and distribute credit assistance, among others. 

With Republic Act No. 11598 signed by former president Rodrigo Duterte in 2021, the DA is authorized to distribute tariff revenues in excess of RCEF’s P10 billion appropriation to small-scale farmers in the form of cash aids.

According to the DA, there was an excess of P12,795,669,158 collected in excess tariffs last 2022. The agriculture department said the fund is currently “lodged with the DBM.”

Brosas lamented that the government seemed keen on providing green lanes for importers but neglected giving cash assistance to farmers in a timely manner.

“Napakaraming mga nangyari. Nagbagyo, nagbaha tapos mayroon pala tayong ganitong kalaki na excess tariff revenues supposedly for financial assistance direktang maibibigay sa mga magsasaka hindi nila magamit,” said Brosas.

(A lot has happened. Storms passed. There were floods. We have this huge excess in tariff revenues supposedly for financial assistance we could directly give to farmers but they can’t use it.)

“The Department of Agriculture has requested the release so that we can actually disburse this fund as soon as possible,” said Albano.

The agriculture department said it has yet to fully implement the cash distribution, attributing the delay to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM). Albano said, “We will inquire with the DBM because we have already requested this for the longest time.”

He added, “[T]he 2022 excess tariff that was collected, It was only reported recently and that’s one of the reasons why the department has yet to promulgate the program to use this so that it will benefit the farmers immediately.”

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Iya Gozum

Iya Gozum covers the environment, agriculture, and science beats for Rappler.