It is not the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) but hoarding to blame for the drop in prices of palay (rice), the Department of Agriculture (DA) said on Wednesday.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar admitted that although the RTL (Republic Act 11203) had “birth pangs”, he believed that it will help farmers become more competitive over time and lower inflation rates.
Dar explained that prices have already been dropping because of traders and millers involved in hoarding even before President Rodrigo Duterte signed RTL on Feb. 14, 2019.
“So may nagsasamantala (There are some taking advantage),” Dar said in an economic briefing in Malacañang.
“That’s the major direction by which we are looking at. Of course, importation nandiyan na e (is already there), that’s part of the law,” he added.
Dar assured that his agency and the trade department will implement the full force of the law should traders and millers refuse to cooperate.
“Makiusap muna tayo (Let’s talk to them first). We know who they are, we have the list, so papasyalan namin, siguro puwede pa magkape muna then alamin natin kung bakt di sila naglalabas (perhaps we can have coffee and find out why they are not releasing) then we have to encourage them to really bring out more,” Dar said.
“We’ll see to it that we will apply the full force of the law and hoarding, if we feel there will be hoarding,” he added.
Under the RTL, importers only need to secure a sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance from the Bureau of Plant Industry as proof that the rice they will bring in is safe for consumption.
It imposes a tariff for imported rice, which is 35 percent per ton of rice coming from Association of Southeast Asian (Asean) countries and 50 percent up to as high as 180 percent from non-Asean countries.
The law also creates a PHP10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to provide assistance to farmers and finances government’s farm modernization programs.
Measures in place
Dar said government has implemented measures to help affected farmers who are forced to sell their produce as low as PHP7 per kilo since last month.
To date, his agency has implemented the Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program for Rice Farmers (SURE Aid) which is aimed at providing loan assistance for immediate relief to rice farmers affected by the impact of low palay prices.
Under the program, the affected rice farmers tilling one hectare of land and below may avail of PHP15,000 loan via SURE Aid, a zero-interest loan which is payable up to eight years.
Dar said his agency has also been stricter in limiting the importation of rice by ensuring that rice imports comply with the sanitary and phytosanitary measures.
“Titingnan natin (We will see) whether these imported stocks are complying to the sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” Dar said.
“Pag nakakita kami ng (When we see) foreign object doon sa bigas, i-hold namin (in rice, we will put it on hold). That’s legal. Kung makakita kami isang bubkok doon sa bigas, i-hold namin until the bukbok is out (If we see bukbok –rice weevils — in rice, we will put it on hold until the bukbok is out). That’s how strict we will be implementing the sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” Dar said.
Dar said he has also directed administrators to ensure that warehouses of the National Food Authority (NFA) will be leased to provincial governments instead of the private sector.
“Provincial governments, about 25 have already committed to do business — palay buying, milling and selling rice. If they don’t have the capacity now, they can invest their money through NFA,” Dar said.
Moreover, Dar said his agency is working with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in crafting an agreement which will convert the PHP600 monthly rice subsidy into rice distribution.
This way, he said, DSWD will buy the rice from the NFA and provincial governments. (Azer Parrocha/PNA)