25K retailers in NCR to get aid amid rice price cap

By Kris Crismundo and Jose Cielito Reganit

September 6, 2023, 7:09 pm Updated on September 6, 2023, 8:06 pm

<p><em>File photo</em></p>

File photo

MANILA – Around 25,000 retailers in Metro Manila alone can receive assistance from the government amid the implementation of rice price ceilings, a trade official on Wednesday said.

During the Laging Handa public briefing, Department of Trade and Industry Assistant Secretary Agaton Teodoro Uvero said that aside from market monitoring, the DTI and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will focus on rolling out financial aid for retailers that will be affected by price limits on regular- and well-milled rice.

“(What is being) discussed is PHP15,000 (in financial aid) per retailer, and we will try to give it to all legitimate retailers who were affected by the (rice) price (cap) of PHP45 (for well-milled) and PHP41 (for regular-milled),” he said in Filipino.

Uvero said the government agencies target to start the distribution of financial assistance within this week.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. signed Executive Order (EO) No. 39 that sets price ceilings for regular- and well-milled rice at PHP41 and PHP45, respectively, amid the surge in rice prices despite the ample supply of the commodity in the domestic market.

“Historically, when July or August comes, the price of rice really increases. It's just that the increase this season is strange compared to previous years so it was necessary to have a price cap,” Uvero added.

DTI Secretary Alfredo Pascual, who is in Jakarta for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting, told trade reporters Tuesday evening that he and the President closely monitor the situation in the country.

“There has been a notable level of compliance observed among the retailers monitored thus far. The initial rounds of inspections were conducted at various markets and supermarkets in the National Capital Region by a composite team comprised of members from DTI and DA (Department of Agriculture). I’m still in Jakarta participating in the ASEAN Summit and Related Meetings but I maintain continuing two-way communication with my team in DTI,” Pascual said.

Sustainable Livelihood Program

On Wednesday, DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian met with the DTI executives at the DSWD Central Office to discuss the finer points in the implementation of the Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) for small rice retailers affected by the imposition of price controls.

Gatchalian and DTI representatives led by Undersecretary Carol P. Sanchez discussed how the DSWD’s SLP cash payout will be smoothly implemented in line with Executive Order No. 39 that set a price cap on regular milled and well milled rice effective Sept. 5.

“We are going to use the program [SLP] to make sure that our (rice) retailers are taken care of during this unforeseen time,” Gatchalian said during the meeting, which was also attended by the DSWD Operations Group led by Undersecretary Josefina Romualdez.

He also reminded the DTI to coordinate with the rice retailers’ group following the instruction of President Marcos to ensure that all stakeholders are on board during the implementation of the cash aid from DSWD.

“In this case, the DTI was tasked to work with the rice retailers’ association to identify who the small rice retailers are. They'll pass on the list to us and, on the ground, we do payouts,” Gatchalian pointed out.

The meeting, according to Assistant Secretary for Strategic Communications Romel Lopez, was held to expedite the completion of the list of qualified small rice retailers across the country who are the target beneficiaries of the cash aid with a maximum of PHP15,000 per qualified retailer under the SLP.

“The completion of the master list of the intended beneficiaries is the meeting's top agenda in order to carry out the actual payouts as soon as possible,” Lopez said.

He emphasized, however, that while the DSWD is mandated to facilitate the distribution of the cash aid, the DTI will be in charge of the grievance and complaints component of the program.

“The DTI will use their current grievance mechanism to address complaints from the ground,” Lopez said.

Quezon Province 1st District Rep. Mark Enverga, chairperson of the House Committee on Agriculture, also attended the meeting to discuss the House initiative to raise PHP2 billion from unprogrammed funds to be used as augmentation for the DSWD’s SLP.

Gatchalian had earlier said that the SLP currently has a PHP5.5-billion budget which can immediately be used to help cushion the impact of EO 39 on small rice retailers.

“But I also welcome the additional budget as this would mean more Filipinos will be given assistance under the SLP,” he said.

Lopez said the collaborative effort between DSWD and DTI “underscores the government's commitment to provide immediate support to rice retailers affected by the rice ceiling policy.” (PNA)