By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Cynthia Villar on Friday maintained that National Food Authority (NFA) would still be mandated to sell affordable rice to the poor even with the enactment of the proposed rice tariffication law.
Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, clarified the pronouncements that the NFA will discontinue selling cheap rice once President Duterte signs the bill that would liberalize rice importation in the country.
The senator who had authored and sponsored the Senate’s version of the rice tariffication bill said the measure would not result in higher prices of rice.
She explained that the NFA, under the measure, would no longer be allowed to import rice and would only be mandated to buy its rice supply from local farmers.
“Once the law is passed the NFA will be directed to buy palay from our local farmers and together with Department of Agriculture to focus on developing cost-efficient system that will help reduce the production cost of locally produced rice and stabilize rice prices,” Villar said in a statement.
“President Duterte said that even with rice tariffication and liberalization of the rice industry, the NFA shall continue to provide the public particularly the less fortunate with rice that is affordable and safe,” she added.
To cite an example, Villar said the P28-billion rice subsidy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, particularly for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries next year
shall be bought from the local rice farmers.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol earlier said NFA will cease distributing P27-per-kilogram rice to the country’s markets when the rice tariffication law is enacted.
Under the measure, the NFA will no longer have the authority over rice importation and shall focus on maintaining its buffer stock. It would be required to buy palay (unmilled rice) from local farmers.
Senators earlier allayed concerns that the rice tariffication bill will result in the rice price surge.
The measure, they said, will pave the way for competition and will compel traders to lower their prices and sell cheaper rice to the public.
Villar reiterated that it is high time for the Philippines to liberalize the importation of rice following the expiration of the quantitative restriction on importation of rice allowed by the World Trade Organization on June 30, 2017.
Villar, on the other hand, assured anew that the tariffication bill passed by Congress will also protect the Filipino farmers from imported rice.
She said the collections from the tariff will be given to the farmers in the amount of P10 billion per year for the next six years to make the local farmers more competitive through mechanization (P5 billion); better seed production (P3 billion); cheaper credit (P1 billion); and training (P1 billion).
President Duterte has yet to sign the proposed rice tariffication law.