MANILA - Various farmers’ organizations, rice millers, and producers yesterday appealed to Malacañang to veto some provisions in the rice tariffication bill that is expected to be signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte soon.
Among the objectionable provisions, they said, is the proposed imposition of tariff on imported rice seedlings, particularly hybrid rice seeds.
Former Agriculture official and now SL Agritech Technical adviser, Francisco Malabanan, in a press conference, said the proposal will have great effect on the farmers.
He projects an increase of 35 percent to 50 percent in the prices of imported hybrid rice seeds if the proposed measure becomes a law.
He said that, for now, majority of hybrid rice seeds are being produced in Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur, and parts of Luzon.
“Just give us compact areas to produce hybrid rice seeds so we don’t need to import. We can produce, we just need more compact rice areas so we can produce," he said.
Senator Cynthia Villar earlier said that the President already certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill to protect Filipino farmers from the influx of imported grains as a result of the removal of quantitative restriction being imposed by the World Trade Organization.
Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said that farmers were being misled by some groups who are against tariffication to protect their own vested interests.
“Unlike claims that tariffication will result to flooding of imported rice in the Philippine market, this will make such importation beneficial to local rice producers," she said.
The rice industry, Villar said, is set to be liberalized due to the expiration of quantitative restriction.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has assured that safety nets are in place for local rice farmers once the National Food Authority stops selling subsidized rice and when the agency’s approved rice imports are depleted.
Piñol said the NFA’s subsidized rice being sold in the market at P27 a kilo would have to be discontinued, as the agency “cannot afford subsidized rice anymore.”
Under the current setup, the NFA is tasked to buy rice from farmers and sell it at P27 and P32, which is cheaper compared to commercial rice.
The proposed Rice Tariffication Law, approved by Congress last November, will remove the NFA’s power to import and distribute cheaper rice.
The proposed measure shall leave the agency with the sole task of buying grains from farmers to maintain buffer stocks for calamities and emergencies. It will also allow the "continuous inflow" of imported rice, which will raise supplies and bring down prices.
Villar said that under the tariffication bill, a P10-billion a year Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund will be allocated which is now included in the pending 2019 national budget.*PNA
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