MANILA � The non-availability of cheap National Food Authority (NFA) rice in local markets due to the enactment of the Rice Tariffication bill should not be cause for alarm since affordable rice will be made available through competition, senators said Wednesday.
This after Agriculture Secretary Manny PiAol was quoted in a news report matter-of-factly saying the NFA will stop selling cheap rice when the Rice Tariffication bill is signed into law.
MalacaAang said the measure is expected to be signed by President Rodrigo Duterte any time soon.
Prior to the passage of the Rice Tariffication Bill in Congress, President Duterte has urged for the immediate passage of the measure to address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortages, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.
Once enacted, quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports will be replaced by tariffs, opening the importation of rice to private traders.
Under the measure, the functions of the NFA would be limited to buying palay from local farmers and maintaining the country's rice buffer stock.
In a text message to reporters, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III said the actual objective of the law is to allow NFA competitors to join the market.
The idea is to have low priced rice in the market through competition. Low-priced rice doesn't have to be NFA imported, he said.
NFA has gotten too complacent, to put it mildly, given its monopoly power to import rice. Naka idlip ang NFA kaya gumawa ang Kongreso ng radikal na hakbang para magising sa katotohanan ang NFA (The NFA slept on the job, that's why Congress made a radical step to wake it up to the truth), he added.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Escudero added that while liberalizing rice importation would lead to cheap rice in the market, the Rice Tariffication bill also assures that safeguards are instituted to protect local rice farmers.
The provisions on the safeguard and assistance to farmers should be given equal import since rice, as a commodity, is always a balancing act. Prices will go down, but we also have to give safeguards and support to our farmers, he said in a separate message.
It's a balancing act because prices have to be low for consumers but, at the same time, we should help our farmers make a living, Escudero said.
One of the main features of the bill is the creation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) or Rice Fund.
Senator Cynthia Villar, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, said the RCEF addresses the problems identified by the government think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) that are hampering Filipino famers' competitiveness
These are the lack of mechanization, lack of good inbred rice seeds, lack of access to cheap credit facilities and lack of training, the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food said.
Under the Rice Tariffication bill, the Rice Fund will be allocated as follows: 50 percent for grants to farmers' associations, registered rice cooperatives, and local government units in the form of rice equipment; 30 percent for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and organizations; 10 percent in the form of credit at preferential rates to rice farmers and cooperatives; and 10 percent for extension services to teach rice farmers modern methods of farming, seed production, and farm mechanization.
Beneficiaries of the rice fund will be listed in the registry system for basic sectors in agriculture, which will also be managed by the Department of Agriculture (DA).
The bill also mandates the completion of the rice industry road map to encourage sustainable investment and to restructure delivery of the government's support services in the rice industry.
Earlier, PiAol said rice tariffication would revamp the image of the NFA and remove corruption issues that has persistently hounded the agency.(PNA)
Source: Philippines News Agency