By Mario Casayuran
Opposition Senator Francis N. Pangilinan welcomed on Thursday a plan of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to increase the tariff of imported rice to help curb the negative effects of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Pangilinan said this proposed tariff hike complements DA’s launching of its P15,000 loan program for farmers reeling from the financially-debilitating decrease in the price of their palay.
“Our imports for the first half of 2019 already passed the threshold provided by law which resulted in over P9 billion in collected tariffs by the BoC (Bureau of Customs).The government earned a lot from tariffs, but it cannot be felt by the rice farmers. Earnings have no meaning if it does not reach all sectors of society. We need to change the system,” he said.
Pangilinan was the food security secretary during the presidency of Benigno ‘’Noynoy’’ C. Aquino III.
The rice tariff hike was proposed by DA Secretary William Dar as part of his department’s efforts to help rice farmers cope with the Rice Tariffication Law.
Current tariff on imported rice is 35 percent, but economists say 70 percent is the rate fair to local rice farmers.
Farmers around the country have reported palay farm gate prices as low as P7 per kilo, or P5 lower than the P12 per kilo production cost.
The DA loan program provides a P15,000 loan for farmers farming one hectare and below with no interest. However, this only benefits 100,000 of the 2.1 million rice farmers nationwide.
‘’We need to find all possible solution to help our farmers. There should be immediate assistance, as well as long-term reforms to fix the implementation of rice liberalization. Implementation where no one is taken advantage of,” Pangilinan, president of the Liberal Party (LP), said.
Last Thursday, Pangilinan filed a joint resolution to amend the Rice Tariffication Law and allow a P13-billion immediate cash assistance to rice farmers.
He pointed to two possible sources of direct cash transfers to rice farmers: the fund balance of P4 billion of the P10 billion appropriated for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under the unprogrammed appropriations of the 2019 national budget; and the P9.19 billion collected as tariff revenues from rice importation from 5 March 2019 to 31 August 2019.
Last Wednesday, LP lawmakers filed the counterpart resolution at the House of Representatives, calling for all to unite for the immediate passage of the resolution.
Aside from immediate cash assistance and the increase in the current rice tariff, Pangilinan called on Filipino consumers to ask and buy local rice from their suki (favorite dealer).
He also proposed several legislative fixes, including the imposition of additional duties and cash-for-work programs of government.
Filipino rice farmers produce most (about 12 million tons) of the rice consumed in the country.
Before the law, the maximum rice importation was just a small portion (1 to 1.8 million tons) of the rice Filipinos eat.
With 2.5 million tons of rice already imported this year and flooding the market, the palay of Filipino rice farmers in parts of the country are suffering from low selling price of their produce.