May 24, 2024

The Insider News

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House leaders share Speaker’s appeal for Senate to prioritize reduction of rice prices

LEADERS of the House of Representatives on Thursday, including two from top rice-producing provinces, shared the urgent appeal of Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez for senators to prioritize proposed changes in a law that would bring down rice prices by at least P10-P15 a kilo.

In a news conference, Assistant Majority Leader Mikaela Angela “Mika” Suansing (Nueva Ecija, 1st District), and Deputy Majority Leaders Faustino “Inno” Dy V (Isabela, 6th District) and Jude Acide (Tingog Party-list) expressed support for the Speaker’s plea.

“I very much laud and commend from a personal standpoint the appeal of the Speaker to the Senate to expedite the passage of the amendments of the RTL (Rice Tariffication Law),” Suansing said.

Coming from a major rice-producing province, she said the law, which includes the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), is close to her heart and was the subject of her thesis for her Harvard University master’s degree.

She also authored the first bill to amend RTL and introduce improvements in RCEF “to improve its efficacy, to increase the impact on lowering the cost of production, and increase farmer incomes and their yield.” 

“So ako po sobrang natuwa ako nuong nagsabi si Speaker na House priority na po ito and more than just indicating it as a House priority, the Speaker actually wants to request the President to certify this bill as urgent, dahil po talagang urgent ito in every sense,” Suansing said.

“Napakataas po ngayon ng presyo ng bigas sa merkado at ang target po ng ating mahal na Speaker at sana po hinihikayat po namin ang aming mga kaibigan sa Senado na samahan kami dito sa pag-expedite ng approval nito sapagkat ang target po ng ating Speaker ay bago po mag-break ng sine die ngayon pong Mayo ay maipasa na po natin dito sa Kongreso sa third and final reading itong amendments sa RTL, para po pagdating ng Hunyo ay ma-implement na po ito,” she said.

She echoed Speaker Romualdez’s prediction that once the proposed amendments were approved, the retail price of rice could go down by P10-P15 per kilo, since the amendment proposals include returning the power of the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy palay from farmers and sell rice directly to consumers.

“Kaya bakit po ba mahalaga ito sapagkat sa kasalukuyang porma ng RTL nawala po iyong dating kapangyarihan ng NFA, iyong dati nilang mandate na bumili ng bigas at magbenta ng bigas direkta sa merkado. Ngayon po isa sa mga nakikita nating dahilan kung bakit napakataas ng presyo ng bigas ay ang available lang sa merkado ay iyong commercial rice at lahat po ito ay naglalaro sa P42 para sa well-milled rice hanggang P60-P62 para sa premium rice,” she said.

She said the House Committee on Agriculture headed by Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga is expediting work on the proposed RTL changes and would be ready to endorse a bill next week. 

“Bakit po natin gustong madaliin ito? Dahil agad-agad gusto po nating ma-address ‘yung pressing need for more affordable rice in the market,” she said.

Suansing added that rice and food inflation is a major driver of inflation or the increase in consumer prices.

She pointed out that on a year-on-year basis, rice prices went up by 24.4 percent.

Supporting Suansing statements, Dy, from another major rice producing province, said NFA’s market intervention authority should be reinstated.

“The NFA acts as a safety net para po sa ating mga kababayan. Not only that, it becomes a price regulation tool. By allowing NFA to do its function like before, magkakaroon na tayo ng mas mababang presyo ng bigas sa merkado. At ngayon, hopefully that will lower the prices of other competing well-milled rice, other types of rice. And again, it becomes a safety net para sa ating mga kababayan na hindi makabili ng premium rice, well-milled rice,” he said.

“Kung nandyan po ang NFA, again we could supply rice to a cheaper price and mas mapapalaki pa natin ‘yung kita ng ating mga farmers at nako-close po natin ‘yung gap between kita ng farmers and also sa presyo na binibigay po natin sa consumers or napapababa para sa consumers,” he said.

For his part, Acidre said the proposed RTL amendments would give the public access to cheaper rice.

“Ultimately, ang layunin naman natin ay magkaroon ng access sa mas murang bigas ang ating mga kababayan. I think its fundamental for government to ensure na ang pinaka-mahirap, pinaka-vulnerable sa ating pamayanan ay magkaroon ng pagkain sa kanilang hapag kainan,” he said.

He said concerns about possible corruption on the part of the NFA could be addressed without denying the poor the opportunity to buy cheap rice.

“I think there are more effective mechanisms to reduce the likelihood of corruption other than taking away the access of the poor to more affordable rice,” Acidre said.

As author of RTL and the proposed amendments, Suansing said, “I will make sure that the way that we craft the provision in terms of reinstating the mandate of NFA would be less prone to corruption, so that’s the assurance that we give on the part of the House…we’ll make sure that the provisions are crafted the right way this time.”