rice grains

DRAFTING policies that complement Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law should be the focus rather than seeking its repeal and returning to the old system, economists said.

In a webinar Wednesday, Ateneo de Manila University Associate Professor Majah Leah V. Ravago, a specialist in resource and development economics, said it is too early to call for the law’s repeal.

“We should give the law a chance. We have to look at the issues and address it with policies that can complement the reform so that the benefits of the law will go down to the farmers and consumers,” Ms. Ravago said.

“I think we should not go back to the previous policy regime and instead move forward on how we can improve or augment the reform passed,” she added.

Implemented in 2019, the law allowed for unrestricted imports of rice, which were then charged tariffs. Some P10 billion of the tariffs will be allocated to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) each year.

RCEF is authorized to invest in farm mechanization, credit, and training programs.

Farm organizations have been calling for the repeal of the law, claiming that it caused a drop in the farmgate price of palay, or unmilled rice, and resulting in lost income for farmers.

University of the Philippines School of Economics Professor Karl Robert L. Jandoc said the government should focus on finding new ways to implement assistance such as fertilizer subsidies and mechanization grants.

“We should think of new ways to deliver old policies to farmers,” Mr. Jandoc said.

Former Agriculture Undersecretary and current Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino said the farm sector has been “historically” underfunded and its total budget must be increased.

Mr. Tolentino said given a bigger budget, the government should shift resources to interventions that will strengthen productivity and help farmers achieve higher yields.

“The budget should be allocated to science, technology, and support for farmers to improve their capacities,” Mr. Tolentino said.

The Department of Budget and Management allocated P66.4 billion pesos for the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the 2021 budget.

The proposed department budget is 17% lower than the DA’s current budget of P79.9 billion and much less than the P240 billion it sought. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave