FILE PHOTO: Workers unloading imported NFA rice
MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte ordered a free market of rice in the country effective Tuesday (October 9).
This was announced in a press briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque who was still technically on leave but was compelled to return to work for the said important announcement.
According to Roque, the President decided to liberalize the importation of rice to curb food inflation. The matter was decided during the Cabinet meeting on Monday (October 8).
Describing how the Cabinet meeting dealt with the issue, Roque said they had an “animated” discussion with many of them raising their strong views on the need to import rice as “the ultimate means by which to rein in inflation as far as food items are concerned.”
“The President said we would go by the recommendation that we should have now unimpeded importation of rice. It was highlighted that minimum access volume is a minimum, there is no maximum,” he said.
Secretary Roque noted that since the Philippines has no local source of oil, the government cannot do anything to stop the continuous spike in oil prices.
What it can do now, according to Roque, is to increase the supply of rice to lower its price.
“Habang wala pa tayong sariling langis dito sa Pilipinas, wala tayong magagawa sa pagtaas ng presyo ng langis. Pero ngayong pinapayagan na nating mag-angkat ng bigas ang kahit na sino, kahit anong quantity ng bigas. At least, inaasahan nating mapapababa ang presyo ng bigas na siyang pinakamalapit sa sikmura ng mamamayang Pilipino,” he said further.
The current status quo actually impedes the importation of rice with the National Food Authority (NFA) as the regulating body when it comes to the maximum volume to be imported.
With the President’s directive, Roque said: “Anyone who can afford it and will pay tariffs for rice will be allowed to import rice.”
Secretary Roque clarified that the directive does not affect the proposed rice tariffication measure being pushed in Congress.
He explained, however, that there was a consensus among Cabinet members to recommend the full liberalization of rice importation to the President as the only solution to address inflation.
The Secretary, meanwhile, emphasized that although importers no longer need approval from NFA Council, they still have to secure import permits and the necessary documents before importation as the NFA is already stripped off its power to accredit any importer.
When asked about the impact of the President’s order to the local farmers, Roque said: “Wala naman po dahil mataas nga ang presyo (ng bigas). Pero ang pangako po natin, iyong ibabayad na taripa ay itatabi natin iyan para sa kapakanan ng ating mga lokal na magsasaka,” he concluded. —Marje Pelayo