By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
It’s been a year since President Rodrigo Duterte signed the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), and farmers are still appealing for its suspension.
In a joint statement, farmers and rice industry stakeholders – led by Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), and National Movement for Food Sovereignty (NMFS) – are unanimous in their analysis that the RTL, which allowed the unimpeded rice importation in the country, is a “defective policy that has been crafted without careful thought.”
Because of this, they renewed their call to suspend the law or for the government to finally impose higher tax on rice imports as a safeguard measure.
“The government continues to delay the imposition of legal trade remedies that WTO [World Trade Organization] rules and our local laws allow in case of severe market disturbances, such as the drastic drop in palay prices,” the groups said.
“We demand that the government immediately impose general safeguard measures on rice imports, impose penalties on rice importers who have clearly undervalued their imports, and find legal ways to deter over-importation in the future,” they added.
Under the Section 10 of RTL or Republic Act (RA) 11203, in order to protect the Philippine rice industry from sudden or extreme price fluctuations, a special safeguard duty on rice shall be imposed in accordance with Safeguard Measures Act.
This is something that farmers’ groups have been pushing for in order to protect and save Filipino farmers from the continuous drop in palay prices.
However, some time last year, the Department of Agriculture (DA), following the advice of the country’s economic managers, shelved its plan to impose such safeguard measure.
Instead, the agency issued stricter set of guidelines on the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary permit (SPS) for imported rice, a move that Agriculture Secretary William Dar said should result in decline in the amount of imported rice.
But the SPS proved ineffective as the Philippines still beat China’s record as world’s top rice importer, while palay prices haven’t recovered since early last year. This forced the government to release a one-time cash assistance of P5,000 to rice farmers. The distribution is still on-going.
Farmers and rice industry stakeholders said there is a need to conduct a comprehensive review of RTL and its effects on the rice industry, farmers, farm workers and government employees of the National Food Authority (NFA).
The joint statement was also signed by National Food Authority Employees Association (NFA-EA), Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations (PHILCONGRAINS), Bantay Bigas, and Integrated Rural Development Foundation (IRDF)
When RTL was implemented, all of NFA’s regulatory functions were removed and hundreds of employees were laid off.
“If necessary, [the government] must decisively repeal the law to pave the way for a better piece of legislation that will protect and preserve our local rice industry and circumvent the threat to total rice import dependence. In the end, our goal should be food security and self-sufficiency,” the groups said.
During the fourth week of January, the farm gate price of palay went down by 19.2 percent to P15.49 per kilogram (/kg) from P19.73/kg during the same period last year, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed.