ACTION for Economic Reforms (AER), a non-government organization, warned the administration against sending any signals that would call into doubt the future of the Rice Tariffication Law, saying that its repeal will give rice traders even more leverage to depress the price they pay to farmers.
“While the falling prices of palay (unmilled rice) is a growing concern, any policy pronouncements which imply the erosion of the Rice Tariffication Law creates uncertainty over the law’s implementation and is precisely the cause for the lack of stability in palay prices. Rice traders who anticipate a reversal of the law (will be) hoarding rice, depressing farmgate prices to the detriment of Filipino rice farmers,” AER said in a statement.
“Halting implementation would only play into their hands,” it added.
To prevent this from happening, the group said the government should be clear on its intent to implement the law.
“Strong signals must be sent as regards the certainty and consistency of this reform,” it said, adding that the government should not break its commitment to make rice more affordable for all Filipinos, while implementing measures that will improve competitiveness of rice farmers.
“AER calls on the President (Rodrigo R. Duterte) to stay the course in implementing the Rice Tariffication Law. We call on the swift implementation of mitigating measures to address the plight of the Filipino rice farmers,” it said.
The Rice Tariffication Law took effect in March, liberalizing rice imports. The large volumes of cheap foreign rice on the market weakened the bargaining position of farmers against the traders they sell palay to.
According to the Bureau of Customs (BoC), rice imported between March and October totaled 1.87 million metric tons (MT).
The price of palay has also been declining since March. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that in the fourth week of October, palay prices were at P15.43 per kilo, down 0.4%, week-on-week, and down 24.2%, year-on-year.
On Sunday, GMA News reported that Mr. Duterte has ordered the suspension of rice imports. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo then said on Monday that no order has been officially issued yet.
When asked about the government’s position, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said at a news conference Tuesday in Quezon City: “I think the Palace has clarified things, so (the policy remains) the same. (We are practicing) free trade… Let’s just be fair in pursuing this free trade, but the government will be doing its best also to help the affected palay farmers.” — Vincent Mariel P. Galang