By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senators on Wednesday allayed fears that affordable rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) will no longer be available in the market once the proposed rice tariffication law is enacted.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said he does not believe that prices of rice will surge when the NFA stops selling rice at P27 per kilo due to the implementation of the rice tariffication bill.
The measure, he said, will instead lessen the cost of rice.
“Hindi ako naniniwala…It can be lower. Even the high-rated or ‘yong commercial rice na mahuhusay ang klase baka bumaba pa nga, eh (I don’t believe it…It can be lower. Even the prices of high-rated or commercial rice that have better qualities may also decline),” Sotto said.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel earlier stated that affordable NFA rice will no longer be available in markets once the proposed rice tariffication law is enacted.
The proposed law, passed by both chambers, awaits the President’s signature.
It clips the authority of the NFA over rice imports as it liberalizes the importation of the staple food with the imposition of tariffs.
Under the bill, the NFA’s mandate would only be limited to maintaining the country’s buffer stock and buying their supply of rice from local farmers.
The bill also allots an annual subsidy of at least P10 billion for rice farmers — or the Rice Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund — to help increase their productivity amid the liberalization of rice imports.
“So mas kapakipakinabang ito (this will be more beneficial),” Sotto said.
“Siyempre meron magrereklamo na mga traders dahil ang dating kopong kopong nila ‘yong NFA,hindi na nila hawak ngayon so ganyan ‘yan (Of course some traders will complain about it beacause they might have connived with the NFA, but it would no longer have control over rice in markets),” he noted.
Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, meanwhile, did not negate the Agriculture Secretary and said “competition” was rather the intention of the proposed law following the NFA’s failure to keep the supply of affordable rice.
“Yes, that is the objective of the law. To allow ‘competitors’ for NFA. Because NFA has gotten too ‘complacent’ to put it mildly given its monopoly power to import rice. Naka-idlip ang NFA kaya gumawa ang Congreso ng radikal na hakbang para magising sa katotohanan ang NFA (The NFA slept on its mandate that was why Congress had to make radical moves, to wake the NFA up),” Pimentel said in a separate statement.
The chair of the Senate Committee on Trade, Industry and Entrepreneurship added that “the idea is to have low priced rice in the market thru competition.”
Low-priced rice, he noted, doesn’t have to come from the NFA.
Sen. Francis Escudero, for his part, said prices will go down when the rice tariffication bill is signed.
On the other hand, he stressed that the assistance to local rice farmers should be given “equal importance.”
“Prices will go down but we also have to give safeguards and support to our farmers. It’s a balancing act because prices have to be low for consumers but, at the same time, we should help our farmers make a living,” he said in a separate text message.