Opposition senators call for withdrawal of Executive Order lowering tariff on rice imports

Published May 19, 2021, 4:42 PM

by Mario Casayuran

Opposition senators led by Senate Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon on Wednesday asked Malacañang to withdraw Executive Order 135 lowering tariff on rice imports from 40 and 50 percent to 35 percent.

In Senate Resolution 726, the five lawmakers said there is “no reasonable and sufficient basis to reduce the tariff rates on rice and it will only cause more burden to our local rice farmers, further increase our import dependency, and cost the government millions in foregone revenues.”

Aside from Drilon, the four other senators are Nancy Binay, Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros and Francis ‘’Kiko’’ Pangilinan, president of the 75-year-old Liberal Party (LP).

They cited farmers’ groups, the Tariff Commission, and the Philippine Statistics Authority’s reports as bases for their resolution.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) questioned the basis of lowering tariffs on rice mainly because Agriculture Secretary William Dar had previously stated that there is an ample supply of rice in the Philippines following a record harvest in 2020.

The FFF also said that the Philippines has been consistently importing from nine other countries, including the so-called most favored nations (MFN) of India and Pakistan, and more recently, China.

Aside from dependence on importation, the government can lose a significant amount of revenue with lowering rice tariffs.

According to the Tariff Commission, the Philippine government stands to lose at least P60 million in revenue per year if the MFN tariff rates on rice are reduced to 35 percent.

However, the FFF estimates that the lowered tariffs could cost the government around P548 million in foregone revenue.

Lower tariffs means lower revenue collection and lower Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), effectively lowering appropriations for rice farmer financial assistance, titling of agricultural rice lands, expanded crop insurance program on rice, and/or crop diversification program under Republic Act 11203.

These programs depend on the excess of the P10-billion tariff revenues collected from rice importation.

Pangilinan, who was former food security secretary and former head of the National Food Authority Council, is principal author of the resolution.

He encourages Filipinos to buy local, especially agricultural products, to increase productivity and farmers’ incomes.