PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday called the rice supply adequate as he distributed seized grain to cash transfer beneficiaries, issuing a warning to smugglers and hoarders of his intent to give away confiscated rice.
“Instead of letting the rice go to waste, it’s better to distribute it to our citizens,” he said. “This will also serve as a warning to smugglers and hoarders that we will keep an eye on rice.”
Mr. Marcos continued to blame hoarders for the high rice prices.
“Sapat ang supply ng bigas dito sa Pilipinas. Ang kailangan lamang po ay maayos na pamamahala ng produksyon at bentahan nito (The rice supply is sufficient in the Philippines. What is needed is proper oversight over the market for rice),” he said at the rice distribution exercise in Manila.
He was distributing some of the 42,180 sacks of smuggled rice valued at P42 million seized by the Bureau of Customs during a warehouse raid in Zamboanga City on Sept. 15.
Palay output hit 4.25 million metric tons (MT) in the second quarter, slightly higher than the 4.2 million MT recorded a year earlier.
Mr. Marcos’ economic team has been proposing to cut the tariff on rice imports to as low as 0% from 35%, prompting questions from the farm industry.
“There is no rice shortage, therefore there is no basis for reducing tariffs,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Chairman Rosendo So said in a statement signed by 26 agricultural groups.
“It is very clear to us that Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio A. Balisacan are publicly contradicting the President with their continued insistence on reducing tariffs and encouraging more imports,” he said. “They are not serving at the pleasure of the President, but of the importers.”
He said any tariff reduction will have a negative impact on farmgate prices “as imports will again flood the market.”
Mr. So urged legislators to compel the Finance and NEDA Secretaries to explain why executive orders on tariff reduction are being issued over the heads of Congress.
“Bakit hindi sila sa Congress makipag-usap? (Why is Congress not being consulted)” Mr. So said. “Ang tariff modification ay trabaho ng Congress (Modifying tariffs is a job for Congress).”
Action for Economic Reforms coordinator Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III has said that the government should lift the price caps on rice instead of imposing a zero-tariff policy.
“The proposed zero tariff of course will bring down the price of rice, but shortages, especially in the aftermath of Indian rice export ban, and increasing demand will still exert upward pressure on prices,” he told BusinessWorld earlier this month.
“But if the market price still exceeds the price ceiling, despite the zero tariff, don’t expect the exports to come in,” he added. “So, remove the price ceiling. The price ceiling is not working, based on the stories of rice sellers. It will only exacerbate the shortage. The sooner it is removed, the better.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza