House approves amendments to rice tariff law on final reading

House of Representatives Approves Proposal to Amend Rice Tariff Law

In a recent plenary session, the House of Representatives in the Philippines has approved a proposal to amend the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) to restore some of the National Food Authority (NFA) functions. The approved House Bill (HB) No. 10381 garnered 231 affirmative votes, three negative votes, and one abstention.

If this proposal becomes law, it will grant NFA the authority to oversee and ensure compliance with standards and regulations related to rice buffer stocking and food security. This will be achieved by introducing a new section in R.A. No. 8178, which is the Agricultural Tariffication Act amended by the RTL in 2019.

Additionally, under the proposed amendments, the Agriculture secretary can declare a food security emergency based on recommendations from either the National Price Coordinating Council (NPCC) or Local Price Coordinating Council (LPCC). Reasons for declaring this emergency include a shortage in rice supply, sustained price increases, or extraordinary spikes in rice prices.

During a food security emergency, the NFA will have the authority to intervene and directly sell rice by purchasing grains from local farmers, with importation only used as a last resort.

The bill was initially approved on the second reading on May 14 but was sent back to the plenary for further amendments before being approved on the second reading again on May 15. House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and other leaders in the House anticipate that these amendments could potentially lower rice prices by P10 to P15 per kilogram.

Despite the House’s approval, the bill is now facing opposition in the Senate. Some senators are concerned that reinstating certain NFA powers could lead to corruption, as the agency was previously prohibited from importing and selling rice due to corruption issues.

However, proponents of the bill, like House Committee on Agriculture and Food chairperson Wilfrido Mark Enverga, argue that the proposed amendments include safeguards to prevent corruption. Enverga assured that the NFA’s role, with these amendments, would primarily focus on monitoring the rice industry to ensure affordable prices. Enverga also expressed a willingness to brief the Senate on the proposed changes to the RTL, acknowledging the concerns raised by senators like Cynthia Villar, the principal author of the RTL.

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