Senator Risa Hontiveros urged Malacañang on Wednesday, May 19, to take back the executive order (EO) that lowers tariffs on imported rice, saying this will burden Filipino rice farmers.
“I urge Malacañang to recall EO 135. Lowering imported rice tariffs introduces uncertainty that can derail much needed production and income recovery in the rice sector,” Hontiveros said in a statement.
“Kung tumataas ang presyo ng bigas sa world market, ibig sabihin mas maraming bibili ng lokal na produksyon, maibabalik nito ang mga nawalang trabaho o kita dahil sa naunang pagbagsak ng presyo ng palay dahil sa implementation ng Rice Tariffication Law (If the prices of rice in the world market are shooting up, that means many will buy from local production, then the profits or jobs lost from the implementation of the RTL will be returned),” she said.
“Mabagal man, kahit paano ay nakakabawi ng kaunti ang ilan sa mga magsasaka, huwag na sana pigilan pa ang tuloy-tuloy nilang income recovery (It may be slow, but at least some of our farmers are already recovering. Let’s not hinder their income recovery),” she appealed.
Executive Order No. 135, signed by President Duterte last Saturday, May 15, reduced the Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff rates for imported rice from 40 percent to 35 percent.
The executive department said the order aimed to augment rice supply and avoid inflation.
Hontiveros, however, said there is no need to lower the tariffs and that rice prices “are not really worrisome”. She maintained that there is enough supply since many farmers continue to plant rice despite very low profit margins.
“There is modest increase in rice production. The seeds and fertilizers funded by the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) appropriations are already boosting production in some irrigated areas,” she said.
Hontiveros explained that the additional earnings from rice tariffs assure funding for RCEF that will help sustain and expand the areas benefiting from the Department of Agriculture (DA) production assistance, keeping rice supply and prices steady.
“Malaking tulong ang additional earnings mula sa nakokolektang taripa para pondohan ang mga programa ng DA para sa pagpapaunlad ng pagsasaka. Huwag na sana nating bawasan pa at ipagkait ito lalo sa local rice farmers na hindi pa naaabot ng mga programa (Additional earnings from the tariff collections contribute to funding the DA’s programs to boost agriculture. We should not reduce it and deprive our local farmers who have yet to receive help),” she added.
She argued that more than rice prices, jobs and livelihood of our local farmers should be addressed as the Philippines continues to struggle with the adverse effects of economic recession due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Mukhang misplaced ang priorities ng economic managers (It seems that the priorities of our economic managers are misplaced). If they are really worried, they should start looking into transportation costs which are causing the spike in inflation,” Hontiveros said.
The government, she added, should solve first the lack of public transport “that’s making it expensive to transport goods and services”.
“Huwag sana nating hayaan na matulad ito sa isyu ng pork importation. Sa panahong naghihirap ang bansa, mas kailangan ng suporta at mga programa para sa mga lokal na industriya, kasama na ang rice industry. Unahin muna natin ang kapakanan ng ating magsasaka at ang pagpapayabong ng lokal na agrikultura (I hope this will not end up like the issue on pork importation. At a time that our country is struggling, our local industries, including our rice industry, need our support. We should prioritize the welfare of our local farmers and boosting our agriculture),” Hontiveros appealed.