Duterte lifts rice import quota, says it breeds corruption

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 29) — President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday he will lift quota restrictions on rice importation, saying these breed corruption. 

"Lahat ng traders. Lahat ng gustong mag-import. Ikaw, sige, import [All of the traders. All who want to import. You, you can import]. 'Yung quota-quota, [The quota], that's the source of corruption. Anybody now, businessman, whether it's a Filipino-Chinese or Filipino-Visayan whatever. They can import rice," Duterte said during his arrival speech in Davao City, following his trip to Singapore for the opening of the 32nd Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit.

The President's announcement came amid reports of rice shortage in National Food Authority (NFA) warehouses. The NFA buys rice from local farmers, and caters to 10 percent of the total rice consumption of the country.

During his speech, Duterte expressed his dismay over the "half-full, half-empty" quantity of rice found in the NFA inventory. As a solution, Duterte said he instructed NFA administrator Jason Aquino to import as much rice as needed.

"Punuin mo para makita ng tao magdaan siya diyan sa NFA....'Yang bigas nandoon sa….Sabihin mo kung siya mag-oversupply na ano, 'di pagbili natin ng mura, wala namang problema," the President said.

[Translation:Fill it up so the people can see when they pass by the NFA. The rice there, even if they reach an oversupply, we can sell them at a cheap price. No problem there.]

Under the law, the government has the legal authority to import rice, allowing it to have a monopoly on rice importation. While it has allowed some degree of importation by the private sector, it has imposed limits or quotas each year.

Some experts have blamed this quota system as the reason for high rice prices, especially when there is low domestic supply.

The Department of Finance has said, if import quotas will be eliminated, the private sector will be able to increase importations and help stabilize prices.

To remove the quota or quantitative restrictions on rice importation, Republic Act No. 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, which imposed rice import quotas, should be amended.

Help from Vietnam

 

Meanwhile, the government currently has agreements with Vietnam and Thailand on government-to-government rice importation (G-to-G). G-to-G refers to a bidding process among countries with existing Rice Trade Agreements with the Philippines.

During the NFA's discussions for the preparation of buffer stocks to arrive in the country, Aquino said in a statement on March 28 that G-to-G was the fastest procedure to obtain the rice supply.

However, he said some are against it.

"There are sectors saying that the G-to-G scheme is prone to corruption. This is unfair to those countries with Rice Trade Agreement with the Philippines because it is tantamount to accusing them with participation or connivance in an illegal act," Aquino said. "G-to-G is transparent since it is an 'open tender' involving governments. There is competition in G-to-G. There is no such thing as negotiated contract as claimed by some individuals."

 

RELATED: NFA: Low supply of affordable rice, but no rice shortage in PH

 

The NFA received offers on Friday from Thailand and Vietnam for the 250,000 metric tons (MT) of food security buffer stocks, but the offers were too high.

On the same day, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc assured Duterte during their bilateral talks in Singapore that it will help boost the country's rice supply.

The NFA said it will reopen offers from the two countries on May 4.

 

A 'band-aid solution'

 

Rice watchdog Bantay Bigas, meanwhile, rejected the President's pronouncement to lift the quota, saying it will destabilize the country's capacity to produce its own rice.

"Instead of thinking band-aid, the government should adequately provide support to agricultural production, starting from free irrigation services, inputs, machineries and post-harvest services," the group's spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said in a statement.

Estavillo added removing quantitative restrictions for rice importation strips farmers of their source of livelihood, which will eventually lead to their "bankruptcy, indebtedness and eventual displacement from their lands."

Bantay Bigas accused Duterte of surrendering to the influence of foreign countries by undermining the country's pursuit for self-sufficiency.