President Rodrigo Duterte has apologized to rice farmers over the drop in palay prices but said he is not keen on repealing the Rice Tariffication Law which makes it easier to import rice.
The Palace also said the President did not order the suspension of rice imports, contrary to some reports.
“What I am saying to our people is that, do not despair, we can always correct a wrong. I apologize to you if the result you wanted to get during the early days of my administration has been well delayed or not good, not to your expectations,” President Duterte said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Saturday night.
“If I can’t help you, then I have no business being here, I have the goal, I will immediately do something about it,” he added.
Duterte said he is ready to meet with farmers’ groups to address their concerns.
“I will ask my office to arrange for a meeting with them if it’s possible to get them to one place so I will listen and I will resolve the problem,” he added.
Signed in February, the Rice Tariffication Law allows private firms to import rice as long as they secure permits from the Bureau of Plant Industry.
The law establishes a P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund to protect the livelihood of farmers, but some groups criticized the measure for bringing in cheap rice, which forced farmers to sell their produce at lower prices.
READ: Special fund for rice farmers eyed
The Philippine Statistics Authority recorded that the average farmgate price of unmilled rice dropped 0.4 percent in the fourth week of October to P15.43 per kilogram.
Meanwhile, the average wholesale price of well-milled rice also fell 0.4 percent week-on-week to P37.60 per kg, while retail prices fell 0.3 percent to P41.
The average wholesale price of regular-milled rice fell 0.03 percent to P33.69 per kg, while retail prices decreased 0.2 percent to P37.02, according to the PSA.
The United States’ Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Services has also projected the country’s rice imports will reach a record 3 million metric tons by year-end, making the Philippines the world’s biggest importer of rice this year, surpassing China.
GMA News reported Sunday that President Duterte had ordered the suspension of the rice importation, but Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo denied it.
In a text message to reporters, Panelo said Agriculture Secretary William Dar had told him there is no suspension of rice importation.
Duterte, in the interview, also said repealing the law might result in a “food crisis.”
“I am not about ready to do that, I do not want to have a food crisis again, because we have a problem, it is just a serious problem, but if you do not have food for the people, that is different,” he said.
The President also said the Philippines, despite being an agricultural country, could not be self-sufficient in rice because of climate change and population growth.
“I will see to it that we can strike a happy balance between rice importation and the production of rice by the farmers. But if you ask me if we can be rice [self-]sufficient, I don’t think so,” he added.
Duterte said he would ask the National Irrigation Administration chief Ricardo Visaya to explain the delays in more than P20 billion worth of irrigation projects.
The Commission on Audit recently noted that a total of 229 irrigation projects remain incomplete.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes said without an amendment of the Rice Tariffication Law, the Department of Agriculture cannot stop the importation of rice.
“A law is a law,” he said. “If there is a need to revise [it], that has to be reviewed by both houses of Congress.”
According to the Agriculture department, 80,000 metric tons of imported rice entered the country, down from 200,000 metric tons two months ago.
Based on the records of the Bureau of Customs, Reyes said 3 million metric tons of rice have been imported so far this year.
A week ago during the World Rice Conference, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the government was not inclined to repeal, revise or suspend RA 11203 authored by Senator Cynthia Villar.
Reyes said DA shared the same opinion.
“It’s too early. It has not yet been year since its implementation... It is likened to a child who has not yet learned to wake, and yet here we are saying “Hey, stop’,” he said.
He said the government is adopting interventions to ease the burden of the rice farmers who are suffering from low farmgate prices for palay.
“We’re propping up the price of palay by encouraging NFA to do surgical procurement. Where there is low price, the agency should be there,” he said.
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