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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Rice price cap seen lifted soon

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Diokno: Data on harvest, supply to guide PBBM decision in meet

A sufficient supply of rice and a good harvest may lead the President to lift the price ceiling on regular and well-milled rice soon, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said over the weekend.

“We will meet next week to assess when to lift the price cap,” said Diokno, who earlier admitted he was “shocked” when the price ceilings were announced Aug. 31 without consultations with the economic team.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan earlier said the price ceiling helped lower the prices of rice, but added that it would not be good to keep them for a long time.

Diokno said the lifting of the cap would be triggered by data that shows a good rice harvest and the coming of rice imports.

The Finance secretary emphasized that the President is the decision maker and the role of Cabinet secretaries is to give the best advice based on the most recent information.

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“Once a decision is made, our next job is to implement and not to question the [President’s] decision,” he said.

Prices of rice are falling in markets across Metro Manila, but the price cap imposed by the government may remain until end-October, a Department of Agriculture official said previously.

The falling prices are not enough to remove the P41 to P45 price cap on regular and well-milled rice, DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban said in a TV Patrol interview.

“Prices have fallen by about P5 per kilo, but that’s not enough,” Panganiban said.

But according to Balisacan, the price ceiling may be lifted soon.

DRYING PALAY. Farmers take advantage of a break in recent rains to spread unhusked rice or palay on an unused portion of a road in Arayat town in Pampanga on Sunday. Robert Gines

“I think even the President is aware of the dangers of a long and unnecessary price cap. It is expected to be short-term and temporary,” Balisacan told ANC.

Earlier, the President rejected a proposal of the Department of Finance to temporarily reduce the tariff on imported rice from 35 percent to as low as zero, a proposal that farmers denounced.

Rice, which accounts for around 9 percent of the consumer basket, was one of the triggers of the two-month high 5.3-percent inflation in August 2023 the Philippine Statistics Authority said.

Meanwhile, a Customs official said the bureau has filed four cases of agricultural smuggling against rice importers who were allegedly connected with the warehouse in Bulacan that was previously raided.

“I cannot name the accused. Three of them were charged with economic sabotage,” said lawyer William Balayo, acting director of the BOC’s Legal Service.

Asked why it takes time for the BOC to file the cases against suspected rice smugglers, officials said the government always gives the other party time to prove the legality of their imports and to give them due process.

The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act gives importers 15 days to present proof of payment of duties and taxes through hearings before imported goods are seized for violations.

The BOC said they were still building a case against the people behind the 42,000 sacks of smuggled rice confiscated in Zamboanga City.

The smuggled rice was eventually donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The BOC said on Sunday it confiscated 236,571 sacks of smuggled rice discovered in four warehouses in Bulacan province.


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