Senator Francis Pangilinan on Friday said that importing rice and lowering tariffs are short-term solutions to high prices while increasing farmers’ income is the more effective way in the long term.
“When the rice supply is mismanaged, rice prices rise, becoming inflationary, and pulling up the prices of all other agriculture products and other basic commodities,” said the former presidential adviser on food security and agricultural modernization.
Pangilinan, also president of the Liberal Party, said focusing on farmers’ incomes also addresses poverty and hunger.
“When rice prices go up, the result is hunger. Especially for impoverished Filipinos, 70 percent of their expenses are spent on food. Of the 70 percent, 30 percent is spent on rice. So when rice prices increase, they don’t eat three square meals a day,” he said.
Pangilinan was reacting to the rice tariffication bill in Congress, which seeks to remove the prescribed import ceiling on rice and to open the market to private traders.
Initially, lowering the tariff can bring in cheap agricultural products, which could stave off the soaring prices of goods, Pangilinan said. However, he pointed out, the long-term solution is adequate supply and rice self-sufficiency.
“Strategically, lowering the tariffs can bring in cheap agricultural products to address inflation. But in the long run, what you really need to address is greater supply brought about by greater farm productivity. You have to increase your productivity. And increasing productivity is really focusing on farmers’ incomes,” Pangilinan said.
He noted that the high prices of goods is a result of many factors, including the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law and limited supply.
“Rice is not really sufficient at this time. And, rice sufficiency is, again, a function of support for your farmers to be able to yield more, produce at less cost and yielding more,” he said.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros, meanwhile, offered several recommendations that would help the public meet the challenges of slower-than-expected growth and high inflation.
Hontiveros said the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte could speed up the implementation of big infrastructure projects under its flagship Build, Build, Build program.
“There must be ‘speed, speed, speed’ in the government’s Build, Build, Build program, even as we judiciously scrutinize the loans that were acquired for the said big-ticket infrastructure projects,” she said in a statement.
The senator added that the hiring of Filipino workers should also be a priority in the project implementation.
“With trillions of pesos worth of infrastructure projects, they can create thousands of direct and indirect jobs,” Hontiveros said.
The lawmaker also expressed support to government plans to impose tariffs on imported rice.
Echoing statements from the country’s economic managers, Hontiveros said a shift in rice policy from quantitative restrictions to tariffs, along with timely importation to boost stock inventory, would help bring down the price of rice.
“Lowering the price of rice has to be the priority of policy through a shift from quantitative restrictions to moderate tariffs if necessary, but certainly with more timely imports even under the present regime,” Hontiveros said.
“This must be done while providing protection to and ensuring the competitiveness of Filipino farmers,” she added. With PNA