By Beatriz Marie D. Cruz, Reporter

A CONGRESSMAN has filed a bill seeking to empower the President to declare a “state of national rice emergency” amid increasing prices of the nation’s staple food.

“The proposed Philippine Rice Emergency Response Act is not just a reaction to these challenges. Rather, it is a strategic set of solutions — a comprehensive tool kit — that seeks to shield consumers and our local farmers, as well as traders, during tight conditions in the rice market,” Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said in a statement.

Under House Bill No. 9030, the President, in consultation with the Agriculture Secretary, has the authority to declare a national rice emergency due to extreme rice shortage, or either from the sustained or spike increase in rice prices.

In the event of a rice emergency, the President may also propose to Congress to subject rice imports to reduced or zero tariffs, and must also provide subsidy with the help of concerned agencies.

The bill also seeks to use the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for programs that will response to the rice emergency, including cash assistance to farmers and other affected sectors, regardless of whether the tariff revenues from rice importation exceeded P10 billion.

During a rice emergency, the National Food Authority (NFA) may also import to maintain buffer stock, subject to the President’s approval.

Meanwhile, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez urged Congress to earmark P2 billion to assist retailers affected by the rice price ceiling ordered by the President last week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman and Party-list Rep. Elizaldy S. Co said the budget will come from the government’s unprogrammed funds and existing funds from the Department of Agriculture.

On Tuesday, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) led an inter-agency joint monitoring team to check on compliance with the imposed rice price ceiling in markets in San Juan and Quezon Cities.

Interior and Local Government Secretary Benjamin C. Abalos, Jr., who joined the monitoring team, said he was enlisting the cooperation of Metro Manila mayors and market administrators to enforcing the mandatory price ceiling on rice.

Likewise, the DA said it was coordinating with the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in stabilizing the supply of rice.