Duterte set to sign Rice Tariffication Bill — Palace
Updated (5:49 p.m.)
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to sign the rice tariffication bill into law anytime soon, Malacañang said Wednesday.
“It has been submitted to the Office of the President. I suppose it will be signed anytime,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing.
In October, Duterte certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill, which seeks to streamline rice importation and allow private traders to import the staple from countries of their choice.
In his letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Duterte said there is a need “to address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, to prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”
The Senate passed Senate Bill No. 1998, which seeks to replace the present quotas on rice importation with rice tariffs instead, last month. Meanwhile, Congress approved their version of the bill last August.
Once the bill is signed by the President, the National Food Authority (NFA) will lose its power to import and distribute cheaper rice, pushing the government-subsidized rice out of the market.
Under the measure, NFA’s role will be limited to keeping the country’s buffer stock for emergency purposes and buying palay (unmilled rice) from local farmers.
Panelo, however, insisted that liberalization in the rice market will foster competition which will result in lower prices of rice.
“Well, ‘pag ni-liberalize mo naman eh magkakaroon ng competition in the market. So magpapababaan sila ng presyo, otherwise hindi sila mabibili, hindi ba? Kaya nga—law of supply and demand iyan eh,” he said.
(Well, when you liberalize, there will be competition in the market. They will compete on price, otherwise they can’t sell, right? It’s law of supply and demand.)
The function of the NFA under the tariff regime remains blurry and it remains to be seen whether it will still be selling rice in the market.
According to Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, Duterte will ensure that even with rice tarrification in effect, “the NFA shall continue to provide the public, particularly the less fortunate, with rice that is affordable and safe.”
“Once the law is passed, the NFA will be directed to buy palay from our local farmers and, together with the Department of Agriculture, to focus on developing cost-efficient systems that will help reduce the production costs of locally produced rice and stabilize prices so that this food staple is accessibly priced,” Nograles said in a statement. /ee
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