Marcos defends price cap on rice

Credit to Author: Helen Flores| Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2023 00:00:00 +0800

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos defended yesterday the imposition of price caps on rice even as he ordered the increase in buffer stock of the staple in the National Food Authority (NFA)’s warehouses across the country to ensure its affordability.

In a speech during rice distribution in Zamboanga City, Marcos noted that countries in Asia such as China, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia were racing to increase their supply of rice before the dry spell, which he said triggered price increases.

“(These) countries in Asia are making sure they have a reserve, they have a buffer stock. And so they race (to get rice). So the price went up,” he said.

“Everyone buys. They are buying at the same time, the price of rice also rises so we have to put a price cap,” he stressed.

Marcos, who is also the agriculture secretary, said below normal rainfall is expected in the coming months due to El Niño that could result in lower yield.

The Chief Executive has issued Executive Order 39, mandating a price ceiling of P41 for regular milled rice and P45 for well-milled rice. The order took effect on Sept. 5.

He likewise ordered the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to intensify its anti-smuggling campaign and prevent the entry of smuggled rice in the country, as he emphasized the need to prevent smuggling of rice to help improve the selling of the local harvest.

“We need to tighten our guards against the illegal importation or smuggling of rice because what happens, this smuggled rice is not immediately being sold, they will hoard the supply to trigger rice prices to increase,” Marcos said. “That is why I directed our partners in the customs to tighten well and not allow the entry of the smuggled rice.”

Marcos, meanwhile, led the distribution of around 1,500 sacks of confiscated smuggled rice to indigent families in Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay on Tuesday.

The rice distributed was part of the 42,180 sacks of premium quality rice worth P42 million seized by the BOC-Port of Zamboanga during its raid at a warehouse in Brgy. San Jose Gusu, Zamboanga City on Sept. 15.

The confiscated sacks of rice were turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for distribution to the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

Asked about the possibility of bringing down the price of rice to P20 per kilo, a promise Marcos made during the presidential campaign, the Chief Executive said: “There is always a chance for that.”

Marcos also distributed other assistance from the Department of Agriculture and Department of Labor and Employment in Zamboanga.

For his part, Finance Secretary and economic team head Benjamin Diokno maintained that he continues to serve at the pleasure of the President amid calls for him to be removed from the Cabinet for proposing tariff cuts on imported rice.

“I know where they are coming from. But I serve at the pleasure of the President,” Diokno said in an interview with Teleradyo in response to demands from various agriculture groups to ax him as head of the economic team.

“If the President no longer wants me, he can remove me. It’s that simple. I have served four presidents,” Diokno said.
Last week, several agriculture groups, led by the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura and Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), demanded that Diokno and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan be removed.

Diokno proposed that the current 35 percent rice import tariff rate be slashed temporarily to zero percent or just up to 10 percent, at the maximum, to address rising price of the staple.

“Just because you have a proposal that is not acceptable by other groups doesn’t mean you will resign,” Diokno added. “You give your best recommendation. That is your duty.”

Currently, the executive department is discussing at the highest level the proposal to reduce import tariffs on rice, which agriculture groups have called a “death sentence” on local farmers.

Leonardo Montemayor, former agriculture secretary and chairman of the FFF, said the proposal to reduce rice tariffs so close to harvest time will cripple farmers and only benefit rice importers.

He added that farmers are already reeling from the devastating effects of the typhoons this year that led to billions of pesos in agricultural damage.

President Marcos seemed bent on lifting the price cap the government imposed on rice before the month ends, ACT-CIS party-list Rep. Erwin Tulfo revealed on Tuesday. “What I’ve been hearing from Malacañang, the President may suspend it hopefully by the end of the month or around October,” Tulfo said over ANC’s Headstart.

Tulfo explained that there have already been recommendations from farmers’ groups to Marcos, who also sits as agriculture secretary in a concurrent capacity and chairman of the NFA Council.

Meanwhile, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the decision of President Marcos to raise the buying price of palay would be good for farmers in the long run — Delon Porcalla, Roel Pareno, Louise Maureen Simeon, Romina Cabrera