Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the temporary suspension of rice importation during the local harvest season as a way to protect Filipino farmers that have been affected by the Rice Tariffication Law.
Duterte, in a press conference on the night of November 19, said he has directed Agriculture Secretary William Dar to suspend rice importations to shield the livelihood of Filipino farmers.
He, however, clarified that he will not scrap the Rice Tariffication Law in order to ensure stocks of the staple and to “stop corruption.”
“Ang problema, itong kumakain, marami masyado na itong si producer, ang tanim niya kulang up until harvest time. Magkulang talaga ang supply. So kung panahon kung wala na, kung hindi ako mag-import kagaya nung nangyari, wala na [The problem is the producer’s supply is not enough up until harvest time. When supply becomes scarce, if I don’t import like what had happened, there’s shortage],” Duterte said.
“Ngayon, sabi ko ‘pag harvest time, huwag, tutal seasonal naman talaga ‘yan. Ang problema hindi ka kasi makaasa dito sa mga producers. Magsabi sila ‘Makatanim kami. ‘Pag ma-harvest lang namin, we can fill up the two-thirds or one-third of the requirements’ [Now if it’s harvest time, then no imports, since it’s just seasonal. The problem is that producers are not reliable. They will say, ‘We will plant. When we harvest we can fill up the two-thirds or one-third of the requirements],” he added.
Republic Act (RA) No. 11203, also known as the Rice Tariffication Law, took effect last March and shifted the country from quantitative restrictions to tariffs, leading to a surge in importation of the staple.
Local farmers, however, are pointing to the new law for the significant decline of palay or unmilled rice prices in some parts of the country.
Asked how long the suspension of the importation would be, Duterte did not answer but instead said the government is willing to assist domestic rice producers, reiterating his proposal to buy all locally produced palay for the benefit of Filipino farmers.
“Ang simple niyan. Ganito. Kung gusto talaga natin walang problema, bilihin lahat ng produce ng producer—farmers. Bilihin. Ngayon, mahal. Farmgate nila [If they really want to solve the problem, let’s buy everything the producer—farmers—produce. The farmgate becomes higher.]”
“Babawi sila. Hindi na bale. Gagastos tayo bilyon? Bilihin natin. Tapos wala, palugi tayo para ‘yung mga farmers may resulta sa pawis nila. Sinong nalugi? Wala. Tayong Pilipino. Bilihin natin lahat ‘yan tapos dagdagan natin kasi kulang talaga [They can recover. Never mind. We will spend billions? Let’s buy at a loss so the farmers can have something for their hard work. Who lost? None. We’re Filipinos. Let’s buy all then add to it because it’s not enough.],” he argued.
He called on Congress to allocate budget for the National Food Authority’s (NFA) palay procurements.
Last November 17, GMA News’ 24-Oras Weekend reported that Duterte had ordered the suspension of rice importation amid farmers’ woes stemming from the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law. A day after, Finance secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo clarified that there was no order yet from the President.
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, on November 19, warned against suspending rice importation, saying “we will be back to where we were last year.” The high inflation last year was partly due to high retail prices of rice caused by supply bottlenecks.
Pernia said the government had already put in place measures to alleviate the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law on rice farmers.
The Department of Finance (DOF), in a separate statement, said it is also closely monitoring potential distortions in the market, particularly the price gap between farmgate and retail prices.
“The gap between the per kilo retail price of regular milled rice and farmgate price of dry palay is widest in the provinces of Iloilo (P29.75), Zamboanga del Norte (P28.50), Negros Occidental (P28.01), Kalinga (P25.33), and Bulacan (P25.25). The average gap is around P22, as average retail price is P37.51 per kilo compared to dry palay farmgate average price of P15.71 per kilo,” DOF said.
Finance Undersecretary Karl Kendrick Chua, who heads the DOF’s Strategy, Economics and Results Group, said the wide discrepancy between the farmgate price and the retail price of regular milled rice in some regions starting in October indicates a problem in the “middle supply chain,” referring to traders who have kept their imported rice stocks in warehouses to drive retail prices up despite abundant supply.
DOF Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Antonio Lambino II said DOF has received reports that some traders reserve warehouse space without storing anything in them, “so that they can put pressure on the farmers to sell at very low prices because the farmers now don’t have anywhere to put their harvest.”
Both the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) have formed strike teams to look into possible smuggling and hoarding activities, and non-compliance with tax and business regulations.
Dar, in a separate press conference on November 19, said the Department of Agriculture is working with BOC and other authorities to resolve the hoarding and smuggling of rice.