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Reviewing Rice Tariffication Law not a priority of Marcos admin, says Diokno

The Marcos administration is not prioritizing a review of the Rice Tarrification Law (RTL), Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno said, noting it has been effective in controlling inflation.

“I think revisiting the Rice Tariffication Law is not a priority of this government,” Diokno said as he noticed “the mere fact it (RTL) was not mentioned in the speech.”

The Finance chief was referring to the first State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., also the concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture, where the review of the measure as among the legislative agenda of the administration was not mentioned.

Agriculture Undersecretary Kristine Evangelista earlier said the DA will be reviewing and is looking into calls to repeal the RTL.

But, Diokno said, “It's not a priority because after all as I argued it has been an effective tool against rising prices —inflation.”

Critics of the RTL have said the law failed to lower the cost of rice and made life even more difficult for local farmers due to the entry of cheaper imports.

Non-government organization Integrated Rural Development Foundation (IRDF) earlier called on the government to earmark more funds for financial aid to farmers bearing the brunt of the RTL saying Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) is not enough to offset the huge losses they acquired.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) earlier claimed that rice farmers lost a total of P68.18 billion in 2019, double than what consumers saved due to lower prices of the grain in the first year of implementation of the RTL.

Economic managers of the Duterte administration defended the RTL, saying that prior to the law’s passage in 2019, rice was the single biggest contributor to inflation, but now had a negative to minimal contribution to inflation.

“I think if you are running the government, you must always think of what's the greatest good for the greatest number. It has an effect on farmers, especially rice farmers, but they are also benefiting from it,” Diokno said.

“Part of the revenues from the RTL goes back to the farmer so it’s a ‘win-win’,” he said.

Republic Act No. 11203 or the RTL, which took effect on March 5, 2019, replaced the quantitative restrictions on imported rice with tariffs of 35% to 40% and established the RCEF funded by the tariff revenues.

The RCEF is an appropriation of P10 billion, collected from rice import tariffs, in six years or up to 2024 to fund programs for farm mechanization, seed development, propagation and promotion, credit assistance, and extension services.

Meanwhile, rice import tariff collections in excess of the P10 billion to be allocated for RCEF will be appropriated by Congress the following year for Rice Farmer Financial Assistance (RFFA) —the direct financial assistance to rice farmers, titling of agricultural rice lands, expanded crop insurance program, and crop diversification program.

“It's not actually a loss to the farmers but it is a gain for almost all Filipinos. So it's a good law. So on my part, I said, why change a good law,” Diokno said.—AOL/RSJ, GMA News