The Manila Times : BBM urged to make 'serious, factual' review of RTL

By Eireene Jairee Gomez | The Manila Times

A farmers group urged presumptive President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. and the incoming batch of legislators to undertake a "serious and factual" review of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and to amend the law as deemed necessary.

In a statement, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) debunked claims that the Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the "Rice Tariffication Law" significantly reduced rice prices for poor consumers.

Enacted in March 2019, the RTL removed restraints on the importation, exportation and trading of rice. Restraints on imports were replaced by tariffs.

Under RA 11203, rice traders are allowed to import as much volume as they want provided that they will pay the necessary tariffs.

Officials of the Department of Finance (DoF) have been insisting the RTL made rice more affordable by reducing the retail price by P7 per kilo, from its reported peak of P46 per kilo during the rice crisis in 2018.

The FFF said that the DoF figures were "deceptive" because they compared current rice prices to their levels in 2018, when prices were abnormally high due to the rice crisis.

"In fact, the average prices for regular milled rice or RMR during the first three years of RTL were essentially the same as those in 2016 and 2017," said FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor.

According to recently rebased data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), prices for RMR averaged P39.02 per kilo in 2016 and P39.52 in 2017. After rising to an average of P42.80 during the 2018 crisis, prices leveled off at P40.57 in 2019, and P38.64 in 2020. In 2021, RMR prices averaged P37.60, or only P1.42 cheaper per kilo than in 2016.

"Although RTL allowed the entry of cheaper imported rice, the savings were mostly captured by importers and traders and were not passed on to consumers. Also, most of the imports were for premium rice grades for sale to well-off consumers, not the more affordable grades that NFA used to import for the poor. That is why poor consumers today are actually paying almost the same as in 2016 and 2017," Montemayor explained.

He also noted that the P27 per kilo rice that National Food Authority (NFA) used to distribute has disappeared from the market.

The economic managers were primarily responsible for the crisis in 2018, since they conspired in the NFA Council to prevent the NFA from replenishing its inventories until its stocks had shrunk to zero, according to FFF.

"In effect, they are claiming credit for lowering rice prices through RTL, when in fact it was they who had caused rice prices to spike in the first place," said Montemayor.

The FFF then called on the government to conduct an immediate review of the Rice Tariffication Law and address all the problems affecting small farmers.