Proposed amendments to RTL include mechanism to deter corruption

By Jose Cielito Reganit

May 3, 2024, 6:26 pm

<p> (<em>PNA file photo by Judy Flores Partlow)</em></p>

 (PNA file photo by Judy Flores Partlow)

MANILA – The House leadership on Friday assured the public that proposals to amend the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) include a mechanism that would deter corruption at the National Food Authority (NFA).

“Ultimately, ang layunin naman natin ay magkaroon ng access sa mas murang bigas ang ating mga kababayan. Kung korapsyon, hindi naman siguro ang solusyon doon ay pigilan natin ang pagkakataon ng ating mga kababayang mahirap na magkaroon ng pagkain or access sa mas murang bigas (our goal is to give our countrymen access to cheap rice. Denying poor people the opportunity to have food or access to cheap rice is not the solution to corruption),” Deputy Majority Leader and Tingog party-list Rep. Jude Acidre said during a press conference.

Acidre, together with Deputy Majority Leader Faustino Dy V (Isabela, 6th District), and Assistant Majority Leader Mikaela Angela Suansing (Nueva Ecija, 1st District), made the assurance after some sectors expressed reservation over the proposal to return the market intervention mandate of the NFA as this may open floodgates of corruption.

Proponents to amend the RTL led by Speaker Martin Romualdez and House Deputy Majority Leader for Communications and ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Erwin Tulfo believed that prices of rice will go down should NFA be allowed again to buy palay from farmers and sell it directly to consumers.

Acidre said corruption can be addressed without denying people the opportunity to buy cheaper rice from NFA.

“I think there are more effective mechanisms to reduce the prevalence of corruption, other than taking away the access of the poor to more affordable rice.”

Dy, who comes from a major rice-producing province, said safeguards could be included in the amendments to the RTL to ensure that corruption would not plague the agency.

“Now that we are crafting a new law, or amendments to the RTL, we can introduce kung ano po ‘yung mga kinakailangan na amendments para pagandahin po natin ‘yung sistema. So, meron mga improvements na kailangan talagang gawin at i-introduce (the needed amendments to improve the system. Admittedly, there are necessary improvements that need to be introduced), but it doesn’t mean that we should not entertain the idea of introducing the NFA function again,” he said.

He said allowing NFA to fulfill its previous functions as a price regulation tool and safety net for poor Filipinos will lower the prices of other competing types of rice, as well as close the gap between the profits of farmers and the retail price of rice.

Suansing echoed Acidre’s sentiments, and added that there are ways to prevent corruption in the NFA, which include provisions that strengthen the agency’s processes.

“May nakikita po kaming paraan na maaari nating ibalik ang mandato ng NFA na makabenta ng bigas ng direkta sa merkado, and at the same time kaya po natin na i-limit in such a way na hindi po prone to corruption (We are seeing a way to return NFA’s mandate to sell rice directly to consumers, and at the same time, to limit it in such a way that it is not prone to corruption),” she said. 

At the same time, Acidre assured that the House leadership is doing its part to address poverty.

He made the assurance despite the conflicting results of two recent surveys on the country’s hunger incidence.

According to the Social Weather Station (SWS), involuntary hunger rose from 12.6 percent to 14.2 percent from December 2023 up to March this year.

OCTA Research, however, said there was a decline in self-rated hunger from 14 percent to 11 percent during the same period.

Acidre said Congress should take its cue from these survey results and continue supporting the programs of the administration and craft new legislations to improve the delivery of government services to the people. (With a report from Zaldy de Layola/PNA)