Hontiveros to work for RTL amendments

Published September 19, 2020, 10:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

As the prices of palay sank to as low as P12 per kilogram (/kg) in some areas, Senator Risa Hontiveros agreed there is a need to amend the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and promised to convince the law’s author and fellow senator, Cynthia Villar, about it.

In a virtual briefing, Hontiveros, chairperson of the senate committee on women, children, and family relations, said she will “convince” Villar to aid farmers, who are still being affected by the negative impact of RTL, through “legislative support.”

RTL, or Republic Act (RA) 11203, was passed in March last year, allowing the unimpeded entry of cheap imported rice into the country in hopes that it would bring down the retail cost of rice in the country.

The law, which was authored by Villar, is supposed to help Filipino rice farmers become competitive by giving them seed and mechanization support through the tariff collected from imported rice.

 But, according to the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), farmers already lost as much as P40 billion since the passage of RTL due to the declining price of palay, while consumers only saved P230 million on the back of a negligible decline in the retail cost of rice amid the entry of unlimited rice imports.

 As for importers and retailers, FFF estimated that they have already gained as much as P14.2 billion and P43.3 billion, respectively.

 “The law lacks safeguards for farmers who lost earnings. I’m open to amend the RTL to fill in the gaps,” Hontiveros said, saying that its “worrisome” that only big importers and retailers are benefitting from the RTL. She, however, noted that RTL can only be amended after three years.

In the same virtual briefing, former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol also called for the amendments of the RTL, and blamed the law for pulling down the price of unhusked rice in some areas in Mindanao to as low as P11/kg now.

“Some government officials are saying that the price of palay is increasing. Where did you go? The farmgate price of palay in Mindanao now is P11/kg to P12/kg. Don’t give us the wrong data because it’s that data that the President will believe,” Piñol, who now serves as the Mindanao Development Authority chair, said.

“We have to admit that RTL is flawed but it could be improved, if only we have the humility and candor to admit that while our intentions were good, the results are contrary to our expectations. We in government must not be tyrants who believe we know what is right and what is best for our people,” he added.

For Fermin Adriano, adviser of Agriculture Secretary William Dar on political economy and  representative of the Department of Agriculture (DA), said in the same briefing that it needs at least three to five years for a law like RTL to work. Adriano also mentioned that prices of palay in some areas in the country, particularly in Nueva Ecija, are improving, citing the observation of Dar.  

To produce a kilo of rice in the Philippines, Filipino rice farmers have to spend P12.72, which is higher compared to the production cost of farmers in Vietnam and Thailand at P6.22/kg and P8.86/kg, respectively. This means that the breakeven farmgate price of fresh harvest should be around P14.50/kg.