President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday ordered the Department of Agriculture (DA) to suspend rice importation saying that it is currently harvest season for local rice.
Duterte said he decided to suspend rice imports because there was no other “remedy” to ease the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law which led to lower farm gate prices of palay.
“What is the other remedy? Nothing. I cannot stop tariffication,” Duterte said in a media interview in Malacañang late Tuesday night.
He said the law helped prevent corruption because it pushed for tariffs instead of import quotas.
The President said he had no problem losing billions of pesos from government funds to buy rice from local farmers if only to help them sustain their livelihood.
“Malugi? Lugi tayo. Pilipino? Malugi. Ilang bilyon? Three billion? Lugi tayo ng three billion. Bakit? Para ang farmers mabuhay. Kaninong gastos? Gastos natin lahat (What if we suffer losses? How many billions? Three billion? Why? So that farmers can live. Who will be spending? Us),” Duterte said.
Duterte urged Agriculture Secretary William Dar and Congress to “appropriate money” allowing the government to buy all the rice.
“You appropriate money and we will buy all the rice, farmgate price ng ating (of our) farmers,” Duterte said.
The President did not say how long his order to suspend rice imports would be in place.
Importation still needed
However, Duterte also emphasized how the importation of rice was necessary to keep the country’s supply of rice stable.
“Kung panahon kung wala na, kung hindi ako mag-import kagaya nung nangyari, wala na (When the time comes there’s no more rice if we don’t import like before, there won’t be any more supply),” he said.
Duterte said the producers’ failure to accurately predict how much rice to produce was one of the reasons why there is a lack of supply.
He noted that factors such as climate change and natural calamities made it difficult to predict whether or not there would be enough supply for harvest time.
Farmer groups have called for the law’s amendment or repeal claiming that they have incurred huge losses from being unable to compete with cheaper imported rice.
With the Rice Tariffication Law, the Philippines has become the top global importer of rice for 2019, according to the latest report of the United States Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agriculture Services (USDA-FAS).
The USDA-FAS has projected the country’s rice imports to reach a record 3 million metric tons (MT) by year-end—the highest in the world and the highest for the country while China is expected to import 2.5 million MT.
Earlier, Duterte apologized to local rice farmers over low prices of palay but insisted on the necessity of importing rice to avoid a “food crisis”.
The DA meanwhile assured to utilize the PHP10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to help farmers affected by the implementation of rice tariffication. (Azer Parrocha/PNA)