Villar assures farmers of actions on impacts of lowered rice tariffs

Published June 9, 2021, 3:39 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Cyntha Villar on Wednesday, June 9, took exception to claims of farmers’ groups that she ignored the calls for action on President Duterte’s Executive Order (EO) No. 135, which reduced the tariffs on imported rice.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate agriculture and food panel, during the hybrid hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the government’s decision to open up the importation of pork amid the impacts of the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak on Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (Senate of the Philippines)

Villar, in a statement, said it was “unacceptable” for the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) to accuse her of supporting the EO and not addressing the issue on rice tariffs.

Raising its possible “ill effects” to the agriculture sector, the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food denied supporting the order, although she said that Duterte has the authority to issue it.

As for the resolution filed by Senator Franklin Drilon, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Francis Pangilinan urging Malacañang to withdraw the order, Villar said she cannot tackle it in the Senate since the measure was not referred to her committee, but to the Committee on Ways and Means.

The Committee on Ways and Means is chaired by Sen. Pia Cayetano.

“I want to reassure our rice farmers that I will continue to take into the highest consideration their welfare in the exercise of my functions. While the issuance of the questioned EO is under the President’s power, I will do everything in my power to work on other aspects of agriculture that would counter the ill effects the EO on the rice sector,” Villar said.

Villar said she also wrote to the FFF to address the issue, telling them that she “has always been a staunch supporter of the local agricultural industry and sought for the improvement of the welfare of Filipino farmers.”

She also recalled that she has made her position against the EO “in several hearings, correspondences and meetings with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar, other members of the Executive Department and her fellow senators but to no avail.”

Villar also stressed that she pushed for the passage of the Senate Bill No. 1927, or the proposed “Cash Assistance for Filipino Farmers Act”, which seeks to distribute the excess tariffs collected by the government from imported rice as financial aid to farmers.

The counterpart bill is still pending in the House of the Representatives.

“By alleging that I have remained silent and thus supports the lowering of tariff on rice is unacceptable,” Villar told the group.

EO 135, issued by Duterte on May 15, authorizes the reduction of the import duties of the Most Favored Nation (MFN) to 35 percent from 40 percent to 50 percent for in-quota and out-quota for a period of one year.

Farmers’ groups, who were surprised with the issuance, said the reduction was “unjustified” and without basis, as they noted that the Rice Tarrification Law (Republic Act No. 11203) provided that the rate outside the minimum access volume (MAV) for non-ASEAN countries is 180 percent.

Villar said the lowering of tariff would mean that all imported rice without distinction as to country of origin and volume would be subjected to 35 percent tariff for a period of one year.