May 27, 2024

The Insider News

Direct from the source

House agri chief assures enough safeguards in Rice Tariffication Law amendment bill

THE chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food assured on Monday that the bill amending the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) includes sufficient safeguards in restoring the power of the National Food Authority (NFA) to stabilize rice prices and regulate the supply of the staple food.

Quezon 1st District Rep. Mark Enverga sought to allay concerns raised by his Senate counterpart, Sen. Cynthia Villar, regarding granting the NFA the authority to directly import and sell rice, emphasizing that such actions would only occur in emergency situations.

“Before, the NFA had monopoly in terms of rice imports, they had monopoly in terms of regulation. I would like to assure our counterparts in the Senate that this is a different scenario. In fact, very limited ang kanilang (NFA) magiging presence dito — only in case of emergency situations and importation is merely a last resort,” Enverga pointed out during a press conference at the House of Representatives.

Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, had expressed opposition to reinstating NFA’s authority to import and sell rice, citing concerns about corruption and questioning the agency’s commitment to safeguarding the welfare of rice farmers and consumers.

While acknowledging Villar’s concerns, Enverga stressed the necessity of entrusting the NFA with its technical expertise and the critical function of price stabilization.

“I think NFA is the rightful agency or administration that could handle this matter, especially ‘yung price stabilization function,” Enverga explained.

He continued, “Sa importation kasi, I think na-mention kasi nila (senators) parating importation ‘yung worry nila. And as I’ve mentioned, importation would be the last resort so we put in stringent safeguard measures here and we know for a fact that very powerful po ‘yung NFA Council po rito wherein they could stipulate also their own safeguard measures.”

In any case, Enverga stated his intention to brief the senators on the contents and objectives of the substitute bill amending RTL, which his committee approved last week. 

The substitute measure — House Bill (HB) No. 10381 — not only restores the NFA’s price stabilization and supply regulation functions but also authorizes it to require registration of all grain warehouses, conduct inspections to ensure compliance with rice quality and supply standards, and mandates the maintenance of sufficient buffer stock requirements sourced from local farmers’ organizations and cooperatives.

The bill will additionally bolster the regulatory authority of the Bureau of Plant and Industry, ensuring warehouse compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary standards. 

The core focus of the bill lies in the continuation of the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF), aimed at providing a long-term solution to challenges within the rice industry.

The House plenary is expected to commence deliberations on the RTL amendment bill on Tuesday, with approval on second reading expected by Wednesday.

Meanwhile, House Assistant Majority Leader and Ako Bicol Party-list Rep. Jil Bongalon raised concerns regarding the potential frustration if amendments to RTL are not enacted. 

“The administration and the House of Representatives, if there would be no amendment to the RTL will be enacted, of course, will be frustrated,” Bongalon said, noting the efforts of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez in pushing for these changes in the five-year-old law.

“Sinasabi naman ng ating Pangulo na talagang kailangan na nating pababain ang presyo ng bigas and that is the reason why nag-issue po siya ng certificate of urgency sa pagpapasa po ng amendment. In fact, through Speaker Martin, nagbigay po siya ng directives. And we have the hard working chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, so finast-track talaga nila, nag-marathon sila ng hearings dito,” Bongalon pointed out.

Expressing hope for alignment with the Senate on the issue, Bongalon emphasized the shared goal of achieving stability in rice prices for the benefit of Filipino consumers. 

He stressed the importance of food stability and security, citing the NFA’s mandate to ensure affordability, availability and accessibility of rice.

For his part, Assistant Majority Leader and La Union 1st District Rep. Francisco Paolo Ortega V called for unity and cooperation among lawmakers to implement measures that benefit the Filipino people.

Ortega referenced statements made by senators during interviews, where they raised concerns about the high price of rice and its impact on the public.

He cited the efforts of the House in developing solutions to address these concerns through amendments to RTL, urging senators to understand the actions being undertaken by congressmen.

“Kung ganun ang statement nila sa media, ganun ang sinasabi nila na gusto nila na ibaba ang presyo, gusto nila ng better options po sa mga mas nangangailangan, then I don’t see any reason bakit po hindi makikiisa ‘yung ating mga senators na gawin ito kasi ‘yun po ang statement nila sa mga tao,” Ortega said.