By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Cynthia Villar on Sunday clarified misconceptions on the Rice Tariffication Law, saying it was passed due to the Philippines’ failure to meet with its obligations with the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Villar, one of the senators who pushed for the law, said this amid concerns that the law has dealt a huge blow on farmers affected by the influx of cheaper rice imports.
The law, which removed the quantitative restrictions on rice while imposing a 35-percent tariff on imports from neighboring Southeast Asian nations, was actually a result of the country’s failure to meet its obligations under a 1995 agreement with the WTO to make the country’s rice farmers more competitive.
“We (lawmakers) did not decide on the importation of rice. We signed an agreement in 1995 with WTO, they will allow us to control the importation of rice for 22 years to prepare our farmers to become competitive to the imported rice, and this expired in 2017,” Villar said.
“Of course, this is an agreement with the WTO. Our President can’t do anything but conform to the agreement, that’s why he sent a rice tariffication bill to Congress that he certified as urgent because he doesn’t want to import rice without tariff so that our small rice farmers will not be affected,” she pointed out.
Had the government succeeded in making Filipino farmers competitive while the WTO agreement was in effect, there would have been no need for the government to impose the liberalization of rice.
“We should have, since 1995, have helped our rice farmers to compete with those imported rice. There are mechanisms for them to be competitive with imported rice,” she said.
“We cannot do anything about it because that is part of our agreement with the WTO. We can’t disregard it. We had our shortcomings, so now we are trying to correct our mistakes,” she added.
But she said the Rice Tariffication Law can help farmers improve their livelihood by providing them funds to mechanize through the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
As such, Villar reiterated that the price of palay would not go down to as low as P7 per kilo due to the effects of the Rice Tariffication law.
“How can that drop to P7, when in Vietnam, it’s P6? Then you add tariff, that would be P9. So how can that drop so low?,” she pointed out.
“If rice from Vietnam enters into the market that would be P20 per kilo of rice, so how will it go down to P7? That’s already false information,” she stressed.