THE Department of Finance (DoF) said rice import tariffs have totaled P15 billion, ensuring a surplus after the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) is provided P10 billion by law, which the government could deploy for aid to farmers.

The import tariff estimate was contained in a speech by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Monetary Board Member Bruce J. Tolentino.

“It’s already five billion pesos over and well above the P10 billion that’s supposed to be allocated for RCEF. The Cabinet is discussing now whether or not to use the extra (funds) for grants to those farmers who are badly affected by a change in the economic picture,” he said.

With the rice prices falling due to the Rice Tariffication Law and oil prices stable, Mr. Tolentino said that he sees inflation in October to be little changed or even lower than the 0.9% reading for September.

The RCEF will fund high-yielding seed, farm mechanization, training, and credit to make the industry more competitive. RCEF is to receive P10 billion a year over six years from rice import tariffs.

Mr. Tolentino said in his speech, delivered at an event organized by the Bankers Institute of the Philippines in Makati, that the Rice Tariffication Law has been fulfilling its purpose with rice prices falling and restructuring the rice industry.

“We have been paying two to three times (compared to) the world market for rice. And it’s not only recently, it’s been (that way) since the pre-war years. For example, right before the reforms in March, you could get rice in Thailand to the consumer for (the equivalent of) P22. The average price of that time for rice in the Philippines was double to triple that,” he said, noting that milled rice prices are currently six to seven pesos lower than levels before the law was implemented.

Prices, he said, are expected to fall further, bringing them in line with consumer prices in Vietnam and Thailand.

He said inflation has been well within the BSP target of 3% plus or minus 1%, as the price of rice, which is a major part of the food basket, continues to fall.

Towards the close of 2019, Mr. Tolentino is confident that inflation will continue to trend lower.

“(Inflation could go lower… purely from base effects. If you look at the rice prices they are still falling and oil is not going up,” Mr. Tolentino told reporters on the sidelines of the event.

BSP estimates that inflation will be at 2.9% for 2019 and 2020.

September inflation fell to a three-year low of 0.9%, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. — Luz Wendy T. Noble