Fund for palay purchase set

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    The House committee on agriculture yesterday approved a joint resolution principally authorizing the use of the rice subsidy fund under this year’s P3.7 trillion national budget to buy the “palay” (unhusked rice) to help local farmers who were affected by the new rice liberalization law.

    The panel chaired by Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga adopted the joint resolution upon the motion of Deputy Speaker Conrad Estrella III of Abono party-list to approve the still unnumbered measure which was based on the HJR No. 322 filed by majority leader Martin Romualdez and HJR No. 16 filed by deputy speaker Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte.

    Under HJR No. 322, Romualdez cited the P33.9 billion rice subsidy that could be utilized to directly buy back the “palay” of farmers and use it for the government’s rice subsidy program while Villafuerte’s measure pegged at P29 billion the rice subsidy fund that can be spent for it.

    The measure seeks to authorize the use of rice subsidy for the purchase of palay and mandates the Departments of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Defense (DND), Transportation (DoTR), Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and the local government units (LGUs) in coordination with the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), “to directly purchase palay from the local farmers and distribute rice subsidy in the form of actual rice, instead of cash.”

    The NFA has reported that they have 209,525.15 metric tons of imported rice in their custody as of August 22, 2019 and procured locally 5,864,007 bags of palay at 50 kilos per bag or 293,200.35 MT.

    According to the DSWD, P6.97 billion remained undisbursed under the rice subsidy program.

    The prices of palay started to plummet after the enactment of Republic Act (R.A.) No. 11203 entitled, “An Act Liberalizing the Importation, Exportation and Trading of Rice, Lifting for the Purpose the Quantitative Import Restriction on Rice, and For Other Purposes.”

    Meanwhile, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has criticized the government’s “inconsistency” in applying the Safeguards Measures Act which
    allows the imposition of additional tariffs on imports of a certain commodity if there is evidence of a surge in imports and have harmed or threatened a local industry.

    The group cited the government’s aggressive stance in imposing additional safeguard duties on imports of relatively non-essential items such as ceramic floor and wall tiles, window glass products and cement. In contrast, the Department of Agriculture dropped its own investigation on safeguard duties on rice imports.

    FFF also expressed disagreement with National Economic Development Authority undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon’s statement that inflation would rise by 20 basis points or from 1 percent to 1.2 percent if a safeguard duty is slapped.

    “If the safeguard duty is set to a level high enough so that it would be prohibitive to import, then imports will stop and no importer will have to pay the higher duty. So what inflation is she (Edillon) talking about?  Besides, no safeguard duty level has so far been mentioned, so it is premature and irresponsible for her to say that inflation will rise by 20 basis points or more,” said Raul Montemayor, FFF national manager.

    Montemayor said domestic supply of rice will still be more than adequate even if imports temporarily stop because of the imposition of safeguard duties as the Philippine Statistics Authority recently reported that rice inventories were 57 percent higher or 675,000 metric tons more in September compared to the same time last year.

    “We have more than enough rice already and the main harvest season has not yet ended. In the meantime, palay prices continue to drop because of the glut in the market. The only way to remove this glut is to temporarily stop imports through the safeguard duties. Once the supply situation stabilizes, the government can easily remove or reduce the safeguard duties,” Montemayor added. (With J. Macapagal)