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Farmers to question rice tariffication law

NAGA CITY --- A broad Coalition of Farmers’ Organizations, Unions, Retailers and Rice Millers to Protect the Philippine Rice Industry (FOURR PROTECT) will question before the Supreme Court President Rodrigo Duterte’s approval of the Rice Tariffication Act (RTA).

Rice industry stakeholders, primarily farmers, are concerned that there are not enough safeguards in the law despite the government’s promise to protect the industry.

They expressed frustration with what they say is the lack of safeguards in the rice tariffication law, hours before the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the measure was set to be signed.

Silveste Bonto, president of the National Confederation of Irrigators Association (NCIA), together with FOURR PROTECT said their lawyers are now preparing a class suit that will be filed before the Supreme Court following President Duterte’s approval of the Rice Tariffication bill last February 16, this year, which they said is disadvantageous to the interest of local farmers even as it will also dislocate employees of the National Food Authority.

Last Tuesday, March 5, the Federation of Free Farmers, thru its president Raul Montemayor, said the law has loopholes which the government has not been able to answer.

Montemayor was also present during the government’s consultations with rice stakeholders last week to aid the drafting of the IRR, which they also found problematic.

“What came out was that they don’t have a plan, they don’t know what to do. The best answer came from NEDA (National Economic and Development Authority) – they said they will still study it,” Montemayor said in Filipino.

The coalition group said their lawyer, Chel Diokno is set to formally file the farmers’ complaint even as they are also preparing a petition for a temporary restraining order against the implemenetation of the new law. The FOURR PROTECT had earlier sent a petition to President Duterte not the sign the bill authored by Senator Cynthia Villar even as they presented their side during the Senate hearing opposing such measure. The Rice Tariffication Law replaces volume restrictions and allows unlimited rice importation with a 35-percent tariff on rice imports from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and 50 percent from non-Asean countries. It takes effect on March 5 of this year, with up to P11 billion in import duties expected to be collected during its first year of implementation, according to the Department of Finance (DOF).

Laban Konsyumer president Victorio Dimagiba suggested that retail prices for rice should not be completely removed.

“The what-if scenarios aren’t clear yet. The law isn’t well-thought-out. They just wanted to bring in more rice to lower the inflation rate. They’re just thinking about it now.”

Among the questions raised by the stakeholders were the ability of President Rodrigo Duterte to use his powers to adjust the tariff in case too much or too little rice is coming into the market, and the capability of the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy palay and sell cheap rice.

As the NFA also loses its regulatory powers starting Tuesday, Montemayor questioned how else the rice industry could be protected from the influx of rice imports or smuggling.

While the IRR can provide more details of the law’s implementation, the stakeholders are concerned that it will still be limited by the law.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol told reporters on Monday, March 4, that they have taken the rice stakeholders’ comments into consideration for the drafting of the IRR.

So far, Piñol said they are still eyeing to raise the NFA’s buffer stock so it would last more than 30 days. Duterte said last year that the country should have enough buffer stock for 60 days.

Included in the petition that will question the law before the Supreme Court are: Philippine Farmers Advisory Board, Farmers Action Council of Region 3, Federation of Patriotic Farmers from Nueva Ecija,Talabutad Norte Multi-Purpose Coop, Grains Retailers Confederation, Philippine Rice Industry Stakeholders Movement, Philippine Confederation of Grains Association, Bulacan Millers, and many more.

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