House of Representatives

Marcos reins in rice inflation ahead of SONA. What about Filipino farmers?

Kaycee Valmonte

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Marcos reins in rice inflation ahead of SONA. What about Filipino farmers?

Residents avail of the ₱20 per kilo NFA rice during the launch of Sugbo Merkadong Barato at Talisay City Hall in Cebu on November 28, 2023. The flagship program aims to bring the price of rice to ₱20 per kilo for all indigent Cebuanos.

Jacqueline Hernandez/Rappler

'We are going to use all options or the complete arsenal – from legislation to tariff rate reductions – because that's what we are here for,' says House Speaker Martin Romualdez

MANILA, Philippines – According to House Speaker Martin Romualdez, the government is exhausting all options to lower rice prices.

The government economic managers agreed to cut tariff rates to 15% from 35%, which can mean cheaper rice for consumers. Farmer groups, however, expressed concern, as it penalizes local producers.

This comes just weeks after the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the proposed amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) that empowers the National Food Authority to import rice when the country is low on stock, therefore protecting consumers from ballooning prices.

“We like to look at all these approaches,” Romualdez said in a press conference on Thursday, June 6.

“We are going to use all options or the complete arsenal – from legislation to tariff rate reductions – because that’s what we are here for. We’re here to make sure… that every Filipino, every family table in every house has access to quality rice at affordable prices all the time, all year round,” he added.

Romualdez, together with House agriculture chairperson Mark Enverga, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Zaldy Co, and House deputy majority leader for communications Erwin Tulfo, met with industry stakeholders at the Manila Golf Club on Thursday. Deputy customs commissioner Vener Baquiran, Trade assistant Agaton Teodoro Uvero, and Agriculture undersecretary Christopher Morales joined the meeting with the SM Group and Puregold representatives.

The government is targeting to sell rice for as low as P29 per kilo within 2024, the National Economic and Development Authority said, just a peso cheaper than what the government previously eyed – P30 per kilo by July.

This is close to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s campaign promise of bringing rice prices down to P20 per kilo.

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Cutting down tariff rates would mean around a P5 to P6 discount for consumers, although Tulfo pointed out that this would still depend on how the country’s foreign exchange rate plays out.

“We’re anticipating that we will feel the impact on this tariff reduction as soon as possible, maybe before the SONA (State of the Nation Address),” said Romualdez.

The House chief also tried to dispel woes that slashing the tariff rate would mean that more imports would flood the Philippine market. “The constant flow of rice will be just as regulated.”

“We’re only reducing the tariff rate, so we will continue to protect our farmers through subsidies,” Romualdez added.

Enverga added that the Department of Agriculture has mechanisms to protect farmers, especially during their harvest season, so that a ceiling will be enforced on bringing in supply from overseas.

Penalizing Filipino farmers?

Farmer groups have opposed the tariff cut, emphasizing that reduced rice tariffs in the last four years from non-ASEAN countries have not resulted to reduced rice prices.

“As with all previous tariff reductions, a new round of tariff cuts will be useless as our foreign rice suppliers simply increase their prices,” a joint statement of 12 farmer groups read.

The groups also insisted that savings from lower tariffs, if any, did not result to lower rice prices.

“They simply become additional profits of importers and traders,” the groups said. – Rappler.com

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