“Iligtas natin ang ating mga magsasaka mula sa napakababang presyo ng palay.”
Senate Risa Hontiveros has urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to be more strict and rigorous in issuing permits that would allow the entry of imported rice stocks to the country, to prevent any massive drop in local rice prices “that cripples the income of our farmers.”
During the Senate hearing on DA’s 2021 budget, Hontiveros urged DA to prioritize the stabilization of local rice prices and better protect the livelihood of Filipino rice farmers during the harvest season.
“Ngayong may krisis, unahin at tangkilikin natin ang ating local rice farmers. Dapat maghigpit ang DA sa pag-issue ng mga permit gaya ng SPS-IC (sanitary-phytosanitary – import clearances) para bawasan ang pagbuhos ng rice imports,” she said.
In response, DA Undersecretary for Operations Ariel Cayanan told the senators that the department has asked local rice importers to stop or decrease imports between October and November, to protect domestic rice prices during the country’s main wet-season harvest.
Hontiveros then pointed out that the DA has the authority and power to control the issuance of permits that allow entry of imported rice.
“Hawak ng DA ang bola: kailan at gaano karami ang maaring makapasok sa panahon ng anihan. Dapat pag-aralan nilang mabuti ang timing at dami ng pagpasok ng imported rice. Nothing should stop government from acting decisively,” Hontiveros said.
The senator added that DA could also convince President Rodrigo Duterte to exercise his powers under the Rice Tarrification Law (RA 11203) to impose tariffs or duties on rice imports.
“Hindi pa rin natin nagagamit ang safeguards under the law that will allow us to raise tariffs kung sobra-sobra na ang pagpasok ng imported na bigas. The DA should study this option and be ready to recommend to the President. Hindi pwedeng nakikiusap lang ang DA sa importers. Magpataw dapat ng dagdag na buwis kung kailangan,” she said.
Likewise, Hontiveros said that government should also ensure that the P1.4 billion recently charged by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to rice importers who were found to have undervalued their rice shipments will ultimately be used for financial assistance programs to benefit small rice farmers, following the Rice Tarrification Law.
“Siguraduhin natin na agarang mapupunta ang nakolektang P1.4 bilyon sa mga naghihikahos nating magsasaka bilang ayuda. Higit kanino man, sila ang dapat makinabang sa pagpapatupad ng Rice Tarrification Law lalo na ngayong may pandemya at nawawalan ng kita ang ating magsasaka dahil sa paluging presyo ng palay,” she concluded.