DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/24 July) – President Rodrigo Duterte has certified as urgent the passage of the rice tariffication bill that seeks to remove quantitative restrictions on the importation of rice and to stabilize its price in the market.
The bill seeks to amend Republic Act No. 8178, also known as the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, to reform the agriculture sector.
During his 3rd State of the Nation Address on Monday, the President asked Congress to prioritize the crucial reform while emphasizing the need to replace the imposition of quota with a tariff system to liberalize the importation of rice and eventually lower its price.
“We need to switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely,” he added.
Duterte saw the removal of quota as a measure that would give farmers additional resources, reduce the price of rice by P7 per kilo and manage inflation.
He said there’s also a need to address the issue of artificial rice shortage, giving a stern warning to hoarders, cartels and protectors to “stop messing with the people” and “mend your ways now or the full force of the State shall be brought to bear upon you.”
“I am directing all intelligence agencies to unmask the perpetrators of this economic sabotage and our law enforcement agencies to bring them to justice,” he said.
The President said he hopes he would not have to use his power against them.
To address the shortage, Duterte said the government has fast-tracked the distribution of rice from the National Food Authority to provide affordable rice for the consumers and provide P149 billion in subsidies to the poor and vulnerable and P169 billion to cushion the impact of increasing rice prices.
“But no amount of subsidy can help the poor if some businesses take advantage of the situation to make more money. I ask businesses to cooperate with us in charging a fair price,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV/MindaNews)