Senate approves Rice Tariffication Bill on 3rd reading

MANILA The Senate on Wednesday passed on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 1998, or the proposed rice tariffication bill, which President Rodrigo Duterte certified as urgent in a bid to bring down the price of rice in the market and reduce inflation.

SB 1998, sponsored by Senator Cynthia Villar, was passed with a vote of 14-0.

The President earlier urged for the immediate passage of the measure to address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortages, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.

A counterpart bill has already been passed on third reading at the House of Representatives in August.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) cited the rice tariffication bill as one of the measures that will help ease inflation, which reached a nine-year high of 6.4 percent in August.

SB 1998 seeks to amend Republic Act No 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act to implement a system of rice tariffs.

Once signed into law, a 35 percent tariff will be imposed on imports coming from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), while a 50 percent rate will apply to imports from elsewhere.

One of the main features of the bill is the creation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said the Senate agreed on setting the RCEF at a minimum PHP10 billion a year for six years, and tariff revenues in excess of PHP10 billion shall be appropriated by Congress based on a menu of programs in the rice tariffication law.

He said this will ensure that all duties collected from imported rice will be plowed back to farmers through "a raft of assistance in the form of equipment, insurance, credit, and even direct financial aid."

The government think-tank, Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) has projected that revenues from rice tariffs would range from PHP13.9 billion to PHP27.7 billion next year.

"The result is a 100-percent plowback rate. Everything will be returned to the farmers, Recto said.

Meanwhile, Villar said the RCEF will address the problems that hamper the competitiveness of Filipino famers.

According to the chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, the PIDS has identified the lack of mechanization, good inbred rice seeds, cheap credit facilities and training as the main factors affecting Filipino farmers' competitiveness.

The RCEF would address all these, and ensure that our farmers become competitive, Villar said.

Under the bill, the proposed fund will be allocated as follows: 50 percent for grants to farmers' associations, registered rice cooperatives, and local government units in the form of rice equipment, to be implemented by the Philippine Center for Post-Harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech); 30 percent for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and organizations, to be implemented by the Philippine Rice Research Institution (PhilRice); 10 percent in the form of credit at preferential rates to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by Land Bank and the Development Bank of the Philippines; and 10 percent for extension services to teach rice farmers modern methods of farming, seed production, and farm mechanization, to be administered by PhilMech, PhilRice, the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Beneficiaries of the rice fund will be listed on the registry system for basic sectors in agriculture, which will also be managed by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The bill also mandates the completion of the rice industry road map to encourage sustainable investment and to restructure delivery of the government's support services in the rice industry.

On the other hand, Senator Joel Villanueva hailed the approval of SB 1998, saying liberalizing the entry of cheaper rice in the country will ease the burden of Filipinos who are suffering from the rising price of rice.

"We hope that the immediate enactment of this measure will ensure that our country would not have to suffer rice shortages and, at the same time, discourage the smuggling of rice, a plague that has long been infecting this country," Villanueva said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency