PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte signed into law the rice tariffication bill on the last possible day he could have signed or vetoed the measure, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III told reporters, as confirmed by television reports.
Television news programs on Friday evening quoted the President’s spokesman, Salvador S. Panelo, as saying that the President had signed the measure.
Mr. Sotto issued the confirmation in a Viber message to reporters Friday evening, saying: “Pirmado na ang additional discounts for poli(tical) ads, Rice tariffication din (The measures allowing additional discounts for political ads has been signed, as well as the rice tariffication bill).”
Rice tariffication liberalizes the import process for rice while taking away the role in importing of the National Food Authority (NFA). In place of the old system, private importers will pay a tariff of 35% on grain shipped from Southeast Asia, raising revenue for the government and also funding a rice industry competitiveness fund.
Had Mr. Duterte not signed the measure today, it would have lapsed into law. The uncertainty surrounding the signing had also raised the possibility that he might veto the measure as farmers’ groups had urged him.
As of 4pm yesterday, the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office had not confirmed whether the measure was signed or vetoed by the President, as of 4 pm Friday.
The measure was transmitted to the Office of the President on Jan. 15. Under the 1987 Constitution, the President has 30 days to act on a bill upon receipt from Congress, or else it lapses into law.
The measure had the blessing of economic managers and the business sector, but farm groups and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol warned that the country might someday be hostage to a supply crunch in rice-producing countries when their populations grow. The bill’s opponents also said the measure would kill off the industry by discouraging rice farmers from planting the crop.
Former Trade Undersecretary Ernesto M. Ordoñez, in a Feb. 14 column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, cited the position of Alyansa Agricultura on the measure.
Noting that while tariffication is “desirable,” he said 35% is too low, and estimated a 70% tariff as a level sufficient to ensure the survival of domestic farmers.
The Federation of Free Farmers also cautioned that the measure will remove the power of the National Food Authority to regulate the market and limit it to maintaining a buffer stock, to be released during emergencies to shore up the food supply in affected areas.
“Farmers will not be able to depend on the NFA to buy their produce if palay prices fall. Once the NFA accumulates enough for its buffer stock, it will have to stop buying from farmers. Traders will now be free to set whatever price they want,” FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor was quoted as saying in a statement on Feb. 6.
Lining up to support the bill was the Foundation for Economic Freedom, which considers the measure as the “most far-reaching reform” in rice policy.
“By liberalizing the industry the syndicate controlling the value chain will now be nullified by free entry and competition — including entry and competition from foreign rice suppliers,” the group said in a statement on Monday.
The FEF’s members are mostly retired technocrats.
Thirteen business groups also signed a joint statement on Jan. 22, asking the President to sign the measure to ensure food security.
The measure will amend Republic Act No. 8178, or the “Agricultural Tariffication Act,” by lifting quantitative restrictions on rice imports. It is among the bills identified by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council as a priority of the administration.
The measure will restore the minimum access volume to the 2012 level of 350,000 metric tons and impose a 35% tariff or the import duty rate commitment of the Philippines for rice importation, pursuant to the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA).
A 180% out-quota tariff rate will be levied on rice imports originating from non-ASEAN, World Trade Organization member states.
At present, the country has a MAV of 805,200 metric tons on rice imports.
The measure will also establish the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which Senator Loren B. Legarda confirmed had been given a P10-billion allocation under the 2019 General Appropriations Bill.
The RCEF is intended to serve as a special rice safeguard to protect the rice industry, which will be distributed, accordingly: 50% for machinery and equipment; 30% for rice seed development, propagation and promotion; 10% for expanded rice credit assistance and 10% for rice extension services.
The farmgate price of palay and wholesale and retail prices of well-milled rice dropped in the first week of February, according to data by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) released Friday, ahead of the possible bill signing or lapsing into law.
PSA data showed the average farmgate price of palay, or unmilled rice, dropped in the first week of February by 0.15% week-on-week to P19.70 per kilogram (kg).
The average wholesale price of well-milled rice was P41.49 per kg, down 0.02% from the previous week. The average retail price of well-milled rice was P44.87 per kg, down 0.29%.
The average wholesale price of regular-milled rice fell 0.18% week-on-week to P38.18 per kg. The average retail price of regular-milled rice, on the other hand, rose 0.02% to P41.14 per kg.
The PSA said the average farmgate price for yellow corngrain rose 0.22% week-on-week to P13.93 per kg. The wholesale average price for yellow corngrain was P20.41, up 0.49%.
The average retail price for yellow corngrain was P25.35 per kg, up 0.68% week-on-week.
The average farmgate price for white corngrain rose 3.08% week-on-week to P14.41 per kg, while the average wholesale price was P20.88 per kg, up 0.38%.
The average retail price of white corngrain was unchanged at P28.12 per kg, PSA said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan with Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio