President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday certified the rice tarrification bil
l as urgent to aid the passage of the proposed measure to help temper inflation, which hit a new nine-year high of 6.7 percent last month.
READ: Rice-driven inflation entails policy change, says Finance
Addressing the certification to Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Duterte cited the “urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”
Bills certified as urgent by the President can sail smoothly through the legislative process, especially with Duterte’s allies having the numbers in Congress. The House passed its version of the bill in August, while the Senate has a counterpart bill under deliberation.
This developed as Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said suggested retail prices for rice will be implemented by late October, amid the rising costs of fuel and other commodities.
The Departments of Agriculture and Trade are also planning to impose SRPs for chicken to be updated every three days and pork to be updated every week, Piñol added.
However, Albay Rep. Joel Salceda, economic adviser of Duterte ally and former president Arroyo, this “economic tokhang” or monitoring of prices was beyond the government’s regulatory capacity.
“How can they monitor that many wet markets, that many groceries?” Salceda told ANC television.
A more efficient way to lower the prices of pork and chicken, the lawmaker said, is to lift the tariff on the importation of these meats for six months so supply could increase. The government could also import rice from Vietnam at only P21 per kilo, Salceda added.
In another development, Duterte said late Tuesday he sees the possibility of appointing a Chinese businessman to head the National Food Authority.
“I’m looking for somebody else. I’m looking for a Chinese who’s been there in the business maybe 20 years. I’ll just ask him, in the meantime, to be the NFA [chief]. It’s their business, he knows,” he told Palace reporters in a press interview.
He did not say why he seemed to have changed his mind about appointing retiring Army chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista to the post.
He now wants Bautista to head the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
Earlier, Duterte lifted all restrictions on rice imports to bring prices for the grain down.
The Palace said anyone who can afford and pay the tariff may import rice without the need for an executive order from the President.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said he did not object to lifting restrictions on rice imports if local farmers are given the support they need to ensure that their farming methods are modern and that their incomes improve.
He also warned that food security would be a problem if local farmers stopped growing rice.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said imports would reduce prices of rice and lower inflation but will hit local rice farmers hard.
“That’s why it’s important to craft a good law that will reduce prices of rice and compensate farmers and increase agricultural productivity at the same time,” he said.