President Rodrigo Duterte has signed into law the measure removing the quantitative restrictions on rice and imposing a 35-percent tariff on imports from the country's neighbors in Southeast Asia.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo confirmed that the President approved the measure which would have lapsed into law on Friday had the chief executive not acted on the bill forwarded to him by Congress.
Under the Constitution, any bill that is neither signed nor vetoed by the President will automatically lapse into law 30 days after it was forwarded by Congress.
The measure allows unlimited importation of rice as long as private sector traders secure a phytosanitary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the 35-percent tariff for shipments from neighbors in Southeast Asia.
The law earmarks P10 billion for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, of which P5 billion will be allotted to farm mechanization and P3 billion to seedlings. The fund intends to ensure that rice imports won’t drown out the agriculture sector and rob farmers of their livelihood.
Duterte's approval of the measure came days after he met with rice industry organizations opposed to its enactment. His spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President defended the measure.
In endorsing the bill, Duterte told Congress last year of the "urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortage, reduce the prices of rice in the market and curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry."
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said last week that the President believed "in giving what is best for the greatest number of Filipinos."
"He believes in the principle of and benefits of having lesser government intervention and allowing the interplay of market forces, while providing the needed safety nets to affected sectors," Lopez said. —NB, GMA News