PBBM: Gov't eyes increased role in rice importation when prices surge

By Filane Mikee Cervantes

May 16, 2024, 7:44 pm

<p>National Food Authority warehouse in Laoag City.<em> (PNA file photo)</em></p>

National Food Authority warehouse in Laoag City. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr on Thursday said the government has found a solution to lower the price of rice by designating a specific agency to handle rice imports when prices surge.

In a media interview in Cagayan de Oro City, Marcos said the proposal would increase the government's role in rice importation, which was reduced when the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) was enacted in 2019.

He reiterated that he would still certify the bill amending the RTL as urgent, noting that both chambers of Congress had a productive discussion about the matter.

"Actually, mase-certify talaga ‘yan ngunit mukhang mayroon ng naging magandang usapan ang House at saka ang Senado, nakahanap na kami ng solusyon para makapag-import ang gobyerno para kaya natin pababain. Pagka mataas ang presyo ng bigas, magbibitaw tayo ng bigas, magbebenta tayo nang mababa para sumunod ang merkado (Actually, it would still be certified [as urgent] but there seems to be some positive discussion between the House and Senate. We have found a solution for the government to import and reduce [rice prices]. If there is a rise in rice prices, we would release rice and sell it at a lower price, so that the market will follow)," Marcos told reporters.

President Marcos said he would leave it up to Congress to decide which government agency would best handle rice imports.

"I don’t know if which agency first. They [Congress] will have to decide which is best. Syempre nakikipag-ugnayan tayo (Of course, we are still coordinating) and I think we may have found the solution and nakikita natin (we see) that immediately, we will be immediately able to bring down the price of rice," he said.

The RTL stripped the National Food Authority (NFA) of its regulatory, import licensing, and market intervention functions, while giving rice traders full control over rice imports, subject to a tariff system.

The bill in Congress seeks to restore the price stabilization and supply regulation functions of the NFA, allowing it to sell rice to markets at a lower price.

"I don’t want to preempt the bicameral committee but I think we have found the solution already. So that kahit papaano (in some way) maybe the mechanism will be different from that which is proposed but, in the end, and net effect pareho pa rin, makakapag-import ang national government (will still be the same--that the national government will be able to import)," he said.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved on second reading House Bill (HB) 10381, which proposes amendments to the RTL.

The bill proposes that the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary, upon the recommendation of the National Price Coordinating Council (NPCC) or Local Price Coordinating Council (LPCC), may declare a food security emergency when there is a shortage in the supply of rice; sustained increase in the price of rice; or extraordinary increase in the price of rice.

When such cases occur, the NFA may use existing inventory, primarily intended for buffer stocking, to supply areas where price increases or supply shortages occur.

It also mandates the maintenance of sufficient buffer stock requirements sourced from local farmers' organizations and cooperatives.

If the buffer stock requirement is still not sufficient, the NFA is allowed to, in the following order: purchase local milled rice; purchase up to a maximum of 30 percent brought in by accredited importers at cost; and as a final recourse, once all domestic sources have been exhausted, directly import rice, subject to explicit authorization from the agriculture secretary.

Aside from empowering the NFA, the bill also proposes that the base amount of the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) be increased from the current PHP10 billion to PHP15 billion.

Speaker Martin Romualdez said the House would expedite the process of amending the RTL and ensure that the amendments are passed on the third and final reading before the sine die congressional break on May 25.

The counterpart bill has been filed in the Senate by Senator Robinhood Padilla under Senate Bill No. 2672 in line with the President's call to amend the RTL and the NFA Charter to provide the national government with control over the local rice market. (PNA)