By Ellson Quismorio
House members assailed on Wednesday the controversial Rice Tariffication Bill, saying its promised annual support of P10 billion to local rice farmers won’t be of much help to the latter.
Thumbing down the measure–which only needs President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature to become law–were Akbayan Party-List Rep. Tom Villarin and Butil Party-list Rep. Cecil Chavez.
The P10 billion refers to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is a key provision under the pending Rice Tariffication law.
Chavez warned that this subsidy to rice farmers will also not work “given the inefficiency of the institutions that will oversee the P10 billion fund.”
“There is also the temptation that the bureaucrats that will oversee the P10 billion fund will treat it as a generic government revenue which can be diverted to other concerns that are not related to helping and supporting the almost three million Filipino rice farmers,” said the lady lawmaker.
For Villarin, the P10 billion annual support “is a drop in the bucket to fund the modernization of agriculture and to raise the productivity of our rice farmers.”
“The Rice Tariffication Law is a sellout of our local farmers to the whims of global market forces as rice imports flood the country with no assurance that rice prices will go down,” he pointed out.
The measure is basically the government’s response to the WTO’s (World Trade Organization) lifting of quantitative restriction on the country’s rice imports, which would essentially trigger the liberalization of the rice market.
The tax to be collected from the law will be used to improve the yield of local palay (unmilled rice) growers through mechanization and scientific efforts.
Veto it instead
But it is this liberalization that’s worrying some legislators.
“Simply put, unlimited rice importation is a threat to the country’s national food security goals,” Chavez said, adding that the country’s rice farmers will cease to exist in a few years should the government stick to this policy.
She further said that President Duterte should just veto the Rice Tariffication Bill.
“Tariffication won’t dismantle the rice cartels or curtail smuggling of rice. It would also put more burden on the poor who can’t avail of NFA (National Food Authority) rice as the agency has no more subsidies,” Villarin said.
“We will now see the demise of Philippine agriculture as well as further endangering food security and worsening poverty,” added Villarin regarding his bleak outlook under the regime of rice tariffication.