PHILIPPINES – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has endorsed proposed amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), endorsing the reinstatement of the National Food Authority’s (NFA) original powers in response to the alarming surge in rice prices gripping the Philippines. 

This move, deemed urgent by the President, aims to address the escalating rice inflation and alleviate the consumer burden.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez, a cousin of President Marcos, has underscored the urgency of revising the RTL to restore the NFA’s authority. He asserts that these amendments are crucial in stabilizing rice prices in the market. 

President Marcos has emphasized the challenges posed by unregulated pricing from competing traders and the compelling need for immediate action to stem the rising rice costs, which have reached critical levels.

Rice inflation in the Philippines surged to a 15-year high in March, peaking at 24.4%, marking the highest rate since February 2009. This worrisome trend reflects the pressing need for effective measures to counteract the adverse effects of skyrocketing rice prices on consumers and the agricultural sector.

The proposed revisions to the RTL, championed by the House of Representatives, are geared towards comprehensive changes encompassing tariff rates, taxes, and the expanded authority of the NFA to procure palay directly from farmers. 

Republic Act No. 11203, enacted in 2019, ushered in the RTL, heralded by the Duterte administration as a pivotal step towards liberalizing the rice trade and lowering consumer prices. 

However, the law faced staunch opposition from farmer groups concerned about its potential impact on domestic agricultural livelihoods.

The implementation of the RTL ushered in an era of rice import liberalization, shifting from non-tariff import restrictions to a tariff-based system. 

While hailed as a mechanism for driving down rice prices, the law significantly curtailed the NFA’s regulatory powers, limiting its role primarily to maintaining palay stocks for disaster response.

Critics, including the IBON Foundation, an economic think tank, have doubted the RTL’s efficacy in achieving its intended goals.

Citing official data, the IBON Foundation pointed to a marked acceleration in rice inflation since the law’s enactment in 2019, alongside a decline in farmers’ net income per hectare. 

These findings underscore the multifaceted challenges inherent in rice sector reform and the imperative of balancing market liberalization with safeguards to protect the interests of smallholder farmers.

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