Critics have been pouncing on the rice tariffication law without weighing its benefits on farmers and the economy as a whole.
The law essentially increased the tariffs on rice imports but eased the restriction on the volume of shipments to fill in the supply lack in the domestic market and stabilize the price of the commodity. Soaring rice prices were blamed for the high inflation rate in late 2018 after local production fell short. Rice imports were restricted and failed to bridge the gap between supply and demand.
Critics should concede that local farmers are unable to meet the local demand because of low and inefficient production. Rice farmers, in turn, cannot produce more due to lack of credit support, and irrigation and post-harvest facilities. Philippine farming has also not been modernized, contributing to the low rice output. Farmers, in addition, do no have access to high-yielding rice varieties.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, a former agriculture secretary, is against moves to to repeal Republic Act 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Law. The measure, according to him, will not only make the country achieve greater food security but also revolutionize the agriculture sector.
There would be no turning back to the era of low rice productivity, he said. "We are now reaping the benefits of the rice tariffication law," he said, adding the rice industry "stagnated" in the previous years, trapping millions of Filipinos in poverty.
Dominguez added the initial success of the law eased pressures on employers to raise the salaries of their workers.
Critics must be reminded that the law also created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which is funded by part of the collections from rice import duties. Collections from the rice tariffs as of Oct. 31, 2019 reached P11.4 billion, already exceeding the P10-billion earmarked for fund.
The RCEF is designed to support greater mechanization, distribution of high-yield inbred seed, credit and extension support and education in the rice industry. The fund will basically support rice farmers with the distribution of certified rice seeds and 16 other location-specific varieties for two consecutive seasons to improve their yield.
Increased rice production, mechanized farming and more post-production facilities will eventually make our farmers more competitive. There should be no argument about that.