THE Bureau of Customs (BoC) said tariff collections from rice imports are approaching P20 billion in the year to date, guaranteeing surplus funds at the government’s disposal after it takes P10 billion from the tariffs to support the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

“I think we’re close to about P20 billion already, about P18 billion or P19 billion,” Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip C. Maronilla told reporters on the sidelines of a forum last week.

“We’ve met the P10-billion threshold (to fund RCEF). It’s a matter of how (much) surplus. We’ve been averaging about P13 billion to P15 billion. Now reaching P18 billion is I think a new high,” he added.

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, P10 billion generated from rice import tariffs is automatically allocated to the RCEF.

RCEF funds modernization programs like the acquisition of farm machinery, seed development, the propagation of rice-growing know-how, credit assistance, and extension services.

Collections exceeding the P10 billion-threshold are added to the national budget of the following year.

The surplus can be used to assist rice farmers financially, support the titling of rice land, expand crop insurance coverage, and promote crop diversification.

This year, the BoC is tasked to collect P874.166 billion overall.

The Bureau of the Treasury  reported that Customs revenue in the first nine months rose 3.43% to P660.4 billion, exceeding its P644.2-billion target for the period by 2.52%.

Mr. Maronilla said that recent supply chain disruptions and the global slowdown have not impacted the flow of rice imports.

“We’re seeing the same volume. In fact, we were tapped under the executive order issued by the President to look into certain warehouses where rice is supposedly stored and look into the smuggling (and) hoarding,” he said.

“By the looks of it, there is supply. Judging from our records, imports are steady, so we have no reason to conclude that other factors globally are affecting supply here,” he added.

In September, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. issued Executive Order No. 39, which imposed a price ceiling on regular-milled and well-milled rice to address rising prices. The price cap was lifted a month later.

The executive order also directed the BoC to step up inspections and raids of rice warehouses and facilitate the confiscation, seizure and forfeiture of smuggled rice.

The BoC has reported that it has conducted 730 anti-smuggling operations this year so far, seizing P35.963 billion worth of smuggled goods. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson