Economic managers urge Duterte to sign rice tariffication bill

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Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno confirms the government's fuel cash voucher program, the Pantawid Pasada, may be affected by the possible realignments in the 2019 budget.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 13) — Economic managers have sent a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte asking him to sign the bill that would replace rice import limits with tariffs in the wake of opposition from certain groups, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno said Wednesday.

"We just sent a memo to the President strongly urging the signing of the rice tarriffication bill. I understand there are some strong lobby for veto… A veto is not possible, I think," he said during his weekly media forum. 

The rice tariffication bill will lapse into law on Friday unless President Rodrigo Duterte vetoes it. Diokno said a veto is unlikely to happen. 

The rice bill allows business and individuals to buy rice from foreign sources and just pay a 40 percent tariff. Tax proceeds will be used to develop the agriculture sector such as mass irrigation, putting up more rice storage facilities and conducting research to improve yield.

Agriculture Secretary Manny Pinol had said the bill can improve production through the annual ₱10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. The fund will assist farmers in light of competition from foreign produce.

Presidential Spokesman Sal Panelo had also said the President will unlikely veto the bill since he believes it is "for the greater good."

Farmer groups have previously expressed opposition to the measure. They said it will "displace rice farmers and worsen food insecurity without solving the problem of expensive rice." Think tank IBON Foundation competitiveness fund will be insufficient to compete with rice producers from Vietnam, the United States, Thailand, Japan and China. Congress approved the rice tariffication bill in November 2018.

Duterte had previously certified the bill as urgent during his third State of the Nation Address in July of the same year.