Grain retailers in the country including those from Bohol fought the signing of the Rice Tariffication Bill down to the last minute joining rallies against the legislation, but to no avail as President Rodrigo Duterte signed the measure into law amid opposition from various sectors including farmer groups.
“Sumala, makita ninyo sa TV pila mi ka adlaw didto nagrally-rally to oppose the tariffication bill. Wa g’yud mi nahimo (As you can see on TV, we held rallies for many days to oppose the tariffication bill. We failed),” said Addie Lumain, president of the Bohol Grains Retailers Confederation of the Philippines (GRECON).
According to Lumain, she and the rest of the group would have knelt before Duterte if it was what it took to convince him not to sign the Rice Tariffication Bill into law.
National GRECON members personally appealed to Duterte on February 8 at the Malacañang, through former special assistant to the president (SAP) Bong Go, to veto the Rice Tariffication Bill then.
Lumain said Duterte asked them to submit a position letter on the issue. The President, nevertheless, signed the measure into law on February 14.
“Nipirma man. Wa na mi mahimo. Pero gipangayoan mi niya og position letter kung anong gusto namin but he [Duterte] signed it. We could only do so much. But he asked for our position letter as to what we wanted,” she added.
Had the President not acted on the bill on that day, it would have lapsed into law unless he vetoed it.
It is now Republic Act 11203, called “An Act liberalizing the importation, exportation, and trading of rice, lifting for the purpose the quantitative import restriction on rice”, which amended RA 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996.
RA 11203 replaces “the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice imports” and instead limits the quantity of rice that will be allowed entry into the country.
In lieu if the QR, RA 11203 provides that a tariff will instead be imposed on rice imports.
It is this salient feature of the new law that GRECON opposes because the Philippines is not yet ready for it, Lumain said.
“Just imagine, it will take away the power of the National Food Authority (NFA). Then, there would be no agency that would focus on the attention for the food security in the entire country, because NFA caters to the buffer stock. What if there are calamities? Where would we get the stock? From the commercial rice traders? No!” Lumain pointed out.
Lumain said they, however, bank on a consideration of their concerns in the drafting of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the new law.
She also apologized to their fellow grain retailers that they failed in convincing the President to veto the Bill.
She also expressed that grains retailers still have hope through the representation of their voice by at least one representative of Grecon partylist in the House of Representatives.
This could be possible if Grecon will get enough votes in the election this May for at least one representative.
With the lifting of the QR based on the new law, Lumain said retailers may just have to purchase their stock from big-time traders because the cheaper stock from NFA at P27 per kilo would no longer be there.
They have no option but to rely on big retailers for their stock.
She said they emphasize in their protest that the national government should have addressed the problems besetting the NFA, instead of taking away the agency in the picture.
With the new law, NFA will just have to focus on the farmers and rice production with the loss of its regulatory functions.
“As another option, we, in the grains industry, plan to import also so they could still supply their retailers with enough supply of rice. But it would no longer be at P27 per kilo,” Lumain said.
With the rice tariffication law, the market will open to everybody and the prices of rice will go up as it follows that many would import from Thailand and Vietnam.
With increased demand, Thailand and Vietnam would certainly increase the prices.
On the other hand, the absence of NFA’s role in the market will eventually tempt the retailers to set higher prices of rice.
Lumain cited the trend that big retailers are just observing the scenarios and as what they are used to, they could increase the prices when NFA rice is not available in the market.
Lumain said even Manila-based association of farmers, retailers, and millers worry about inevitable losses when imported rice would flood the market.
The number of millers alone in entire Philippines are at 6,000 and there are around 50,000 workers who might be affected due to the changes the new law would bring.
She said the millers might not be able to pay their loans as they would have almost nothing to mill as the prices of palay might dive.
It would no longer be that easy for them to purchase palay from farmers as rice would flood the market and they have to consider that rice would be spoiled if hoarded for a long period of time.