THE Department of Agriculture (DA) will just implement what President Rodrigo Duterte decides on the impending rice tariffication bill, its top official said.
The bill was transmitted to Duterte on January 14 and would lapse into law on Friday, February 15, if he will not act on it.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said the agency has already submitted the collated stand of the farmer-stakeholders.
In fact, it was already read by the President on Monday, February 11, Piñol said.
“So we are expecting something but I cannot second guess the decision of the President on the matter. Our role is just to make recommendations,” he said, reiterating that “it's very clear that we support the tariffication.”
In October last year, the President certified the rice tariffication bill as urgent to address the urgent need to improve rice supply in the country, 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.
A month after the certification of the measure as urgent, the bicameral conference committee ratified the report on the proposed measure aimed at lifting quantitative restrictions on rice importation and allowing private traders to import commodity from countries of their choice.
Under the bill, a 25-percent duty will be imposed on rice imports from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations member-states, while a 50-percent rate will apply to imports from non-members of the regional bloc.
The measure would also create the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or a special rice buffer fund with an initial P10-billion annual fund, in a bid to ensure rice production competitiveness.
For Piñol, there is no way that they cannot support rice tariffication as the country has commitment to the World Trade Organization.
He, however, said they were just asking for a little more study on the implications of the total deregulation.
“This is the position of the DA especially on the stability of buying price of palay because right now it dropped to P14 to P15,” Piñol said, adding that once the palay price drops, it would be a problem for the DA because the farmers will complain.
The only way to arrest that, the agriculture chief said, is to allow the National Food Authority (NFA) to continue buying from the farmers at an indicated support price.
“That is what we are doing now,” Piñol said.
He added “the only problem is the NFA might not sustain the procurement operations since it will no longer be allowed to make borrowings for the procurement program under the proposed bill.”
Duterte earlier said that his decision will be “for the greater good of the greater number.”