President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to also distribute cash assistance to sari-sari store owners affected by the price ceiling on rice, the Palace said Sunday.
The DSWD would work with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to identify the beneficiaries, and would distribute the cash assistance from Sept. 25 to 29, it added.
Marcos had also directed the DSWD to provide cash assistance to small rice retailers affected by the mandated price ceiling on regular and well-milled rice.
The President approved the price caps of P41 a kilo of regular milled rice and P45 for well-milled rice.
Based on its latest report, the DSWD said that it has released P92.415 million in financial assistance to 6,161 out of the 8,390-target micro and small rice retailers affected by the implementation of the EO 39.
Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said he does not expect the proposed lowering of the import tariffs on imported rice to significantly affect the government’s revenue collections.
“It’s actually not that big… Our collection from rice imports is around P17 billion,” Diokno said, referring to the latest Bureau of Customs data showing that rice imports tariff collection stood at P16.81 billion from January to Aug. 26, 2023, 6 percent up from P15.82 billion a year ago.
“But it will depend on to what extent [the tariff will be reduced]. Right now it is 35 percent. It depends if it is reduced to 20 percent or 10 percent, and also on the quantity of imports,” Diokno said.
The Department of Finance earlier proposed to reduce the 35 percent rice import tariff rates, both ASEAN and MFN (most favored nation) rates, temporarily to 0 percent or a maximum of 10 percent to arrest the surge in rice prices.
Rice, which accounts for around 9 percent in the consumer basket, was one of the triggers of the two-month high 5.3-percent inflation in August from 4.7 percent a month ago, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Farmers groups, who fear the entry of cheap imported rice will hurt them, have attacked the DOF proposal and called for Diokno’s resignation.
But Diokno said he would not make a recommendation because the Tariff Commission will do so, to the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) board.
While the commission has already conducted a hearing on the proposal, it has not yet made a recommendation, he said.
Diokno earlier said reducing the import tariffs on rice was part of a comprehensive strategy to reduce prices for consumers and mitigate a potential shortage of the staple due to the impact of the ongoing El Niño phenomenon.
The PSA said the bottom 30 percent of households felt the impact of higher rice prices the most. Data showed that regular milled rice in August 2023 averaged P43.34 nationwide, up 8.9 percent year on year, while well-milled rice averaged P47.63, higher by 8.1 percent.
Earlier, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) exempted the rice subsidy program for small-scale retailers and fuel subsidy program for public utility vehicles (PUVs) in relation to the 2023 Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) spending ban.
The DSWD had asked the Comelec to exempt the nationwide distribution of financial aid to micro rice retailers from the election-related ban on the release of public funds.