DOJ chief admits letter on WTO effects of PH rice import policy
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has admitted writing the 12-page document that thumbed down the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) position on the expired “special privilege” granted by the World Trade Organization (WTO) that allowed the Philippines to restrict rice imports.
Hundreds of container vans of imported rice have been seized in the ports of Davao, Batangas and Manila.
In an interview last week, De Lima said she “sent only a letter and not a legal opinion.”
The letter, marked “confidential,” was dated Dec. 16, 2013, and was addressed to Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in response to a request for opinion on whether the Philippines could continue to impose quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice importation.
Malacañang, however, said it was sticking with the Office of the Solicitor General’s (OSG) interpretation that the seized rice imports were illegal. The OSG’s argument was recently backed by the Supreme Court that allowed the customs bureau to seize rice imports without permits.
In her letter, De Lima said rice importation involved “serious and complex legal, economic and policy considerations,” which are best handled by the economic Cabinet cluster.
“Among the considerations are the possible legal repercussions of the Philippines being perceived to be in breach of its WTO commitments,” De Lima said in her letter.
The National Food Authority (NFA), her letter said, “cannot close its eyes to the provision of the WTO agreement … which became part of our body of law.”
“It cannot pick and select which to honor and which to disregard,” her letter said.
The WTO first granted the Philippines a 10-year “special treatment” for rice starting in 1995. Prior to its 2005 expiration, an extension was negotiated and granted in 2004. The extension lapsed on June 30, 2012.
The DA and the NFA, however, insisted that the authority to implement QR remained in effect.
De Lima disagreed, saying, “since the Philippines’ request for the extension of its QR on rice until 2017 is still pending … the Philippine government should honor and implement the effect of the expiration of the period.”
In a previous statement, a leader of the militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the continued entry of imported rice into the Philippines added to the sufferings of Filipino farmers.
Rafael Mariano, KMP chair, said in a statement issued in December last year that a prediction by the US Department of Agriculture of more rice imports for the Philippines was a bad omen for Filipino farmers.
Mariano said that to protect Filipino farmers, the Philippines should pull out of the WTO, increase farm gate prices of palay to P20 per kilogram and for government to buy at least 20 percent of farmers’ harvests. With a report from Delfin Mallari, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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