THE Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said Congress failed to hold hearings on resolutions questioning Executive Order (EO) No. 135, which lowered the tariffs on imported rice.

The FFF said in a statement Friday that resolutions were filed by Senators Francis N. Pangilinan, Franklin M. Drilon, Ana Theresia N. Hontiveros-Baraquel, Leila M. de Lima, and Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay in the Senate, while MAGSASAKA Party-List Representative Argel Joseph T. Cabatbat filed a resolution in the House of Representatives.

The FFF said no hearings on the resolutions were conducted by the agriculture committees of the House and Senate.

“By default, the EO took effect on June 2, after the 15-day reglementary period,” FFF said.

According to the FFF, Senator Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, and Quezon Province First District Rep. Wilfrido Mark M. Enverga, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, did not address the issue of tariffs after the EO was issued.

FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said the EO should be publicly debated in the absence of “meaningful consultation” with farmers and other stakeholders.

“The senators went to the extent of convening several plenary meetings to scrutinize the EO that reduced tariffs on pork, for which there was an obvious crisis in terms of supply and rising prices.  We cannot understand why they have not exhibited the same concern for rice, considering that there is no apparent problem, and many more stakeholders are involved,” Mr. Montemayor said.

Asked to comment, Mr. Enverga said by phone message that his committee queried the Department of Agriculture for its position on EO 135.

“We are also waiting for similar resolutions filed by other members with regard to EO 135 to be referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Food. These resolutions remain a priority and have been originally set for deliberation in the coming weeks during the break,” Mr. Enverga said.

“Given that we only had three weeks before sine die, we prioritized measures that we could pass on second and third reading,” he added.

Signed on May 15, EO 135 reduced the most-favored nation tariff rates of rice imports to 35% for a one-year period in an effort to diversify the country’s sources of rice, improve supply, and maintain prices. The new rate brings MFNs in line with the preferential rate accorded to ASEAN trading partners that ship rice to the Philippines.

Before the EO, rice imports within the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) quota were charged 40% tariffs while out-of-quota rice imports paid 50%.

BusinessWorld contacted Ms. Villar for comment but she had not replied at deadline time. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave