Rice farmers have raised alarms over certain provisions in the draft Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Rice Tariffication Law which was recently signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.  The IRR is currently being subjected to review by stakeholders in a series of public consultations conducted by the Department of Agriculture (DA).  The NFA Council has set March 5, 2019 as the deadline for finalizing the IRR.

            Raul Montemayor, National Manager of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), noted that the tariffication law and the draft IRR appear to be inconsistent with respect to the price stabilization functions of the NFA.  “The law says NFA’s role will be limited to buffer stocking.  The stocks will be bought only from local farmers and can be released only during calamities and emergencies.  This implies that NFA will stop buying from farmers once it has accumulated enough buffer stocks, and it will also stop selling subsidized rice unless there is a calamity or emergency.  But based on the interpretation of some government officials, the IRR leaves room for the NFA to continue selling cheap rice and buying from farmers without restrictions.  Both consumers and farmers want an assurance that this is the correct interpretation, but there seems to be some hesitation to categorically state this in the IRR.”, said Montemayor.

            Montemayor also questioned the insertion in the IRR of a provision enabling the Philippine International Trade Corporation (PITC), an attached agency of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to import rice and sell it to the public for price stabilization purposes.  “Why take out the capacity of the NFA to import rice and just transfer it to another government corporation?  Besides, the PITC has no facilities and manpower to handle and distribute large rice imports.  It has no business in price stabilization.  Most probably, it will just act as an assembler and importing agent and charge importers a fee for its services.  So, it will just be a money-making venture of a department that pushed aggressively for the passage of the rice tariffication law.”, complained Montemayor.

            Alfonso Esguerra, Chairman of the Province Agriculture and Fishery Council (PAFC) of Occidental Mindoro, also raised questions on the allocation of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which is supposed to help farmers cope with the liberalization of the rice market.  “Why was P700 million allocated to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for agricultural extension services, while the key agencies of the DA in charge of training and extension were given only P100 million each?  Do they want farmers to become welders and househelpers?  And was it proper for Senator Cynthia Villar, the main sponsor of the tariffication bill and Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, to allocate such a big amount to TESDA considering that TESDA is a major partner of the SIPAG Foundation of the Villar family?”,asked Esguerra.

            Leonilo Binalangbang, chairman of a farmers cooperative in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, also questioned the motives of Senator Villar in pushing for the rice tariffication law given that her family is heavily involved in buying land from farmers and converting them to non-agricultural uses.  “Maybe the tariffication law was designed to bankrupt more farmers to make it easier for her family and other real estate developers to buy land for their housing, shopping mall and other projects.  It also does not look proper that Senator Villar is simultaneously the chairman of the Senate Committees on Agriculture, Agrarian Reform, and Environment and Natural Resources.  These committees have a large say on the budgets, policies and programs of key government departments that have a direct impact on the operations of her family businesses.”, added Binalangbang.

            Montemayor further questioned the inclusion of local government units (LGUs) as among the direct beneficiaries of the P5 billion farm mechanization program under the RCEF.  “There have been many complaints that LGUs use these programs for political patronage, and only their supporters are able to access these support programs.  So we want clear rules in the IRR that will limit their access to the RCEF and prevent them from acting as conduits for machinery grants to farmers and farmer organizations.”, said Montemayor.

            Questions were also raised on how the Philippine Statistical Authority (PSA) will assume and effectively exercise the former functions of the NFA in monitoring rice stocks in both public and private warehouses, as proposed in the IRR.  “How can the PSA track the movement of the stocks when all traders, millers, importers, warehouses and retailers will not anymore have to secure licenses from the NFA under the tariffication law?  The PSA will not even know where these warehouses are and who are the owners of the stocks”, asked Montemayor. 

            Earlier, DA officials had warned of the consequences of Article 3 of the Rice Tariffication law which repeals all laws that allow for the reimposition of quantitative restrictions on rice imports.  “WTO rules include a general safeguards provision that actually allows any member-country to temporarily reimpose import restrictions under certain conditions.  These rules were incorporated in our own Safeguards Measures Act or Republic Act 8800.  But the rice tariffication law appears to have unilaterally removed this option.  In effect, we are shooting ourselves in our own feet.”, said Montemayor.