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Speaker: Senate open to passing bill amending Rice Tariffication Law

The Senate under the leadership of Senate President Francis “Chiz” Escudero is open to passing the bill amending the Rice Tariffication Law, House Speaker Martin Romualdez said Thursday.

Romualdez said such an agreement was reached after his meeting with Escudero in Malacañang Palace.

“A key focus of the meeting was the amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law, identified as a top priority. (The Senate is) open (to passing the bill amending the RTL),” Romualdez said.

“I understand Senator Cynthia Villar will file her version (of a bill amending RTL),” he added.

Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, has expressed her opposition to the bill amending the RTL that was approved by the House on third and final reading on grounds that the said proposal allows the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy and sell rice to the market anew.

The senator said NFA’s previous links to corruption involving rice importation is what prompted the passage of the RTL in the first place since it prevented NFA from buying and selling rice to the market.

The RTL also allows unlimited entry of imported rice into the country, with the P10 billion of tariff collection proceeds off imported rice going to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund which provides for mechanization, interventions to increase yield, among other aid to farmers.

The Romualdez-led House of Representatives, however, is pushing for the passage of the RTL amendments, that by allowing the NFA to buy and sell rice will prevent a surge in rice prices, alongside the looming reduction of the tariff on imported rice.

The House proponents of the bill amending RTL said the law should be changed, claiming the existing measure failed to meet its targets, particularly on mechanization, increasing the farmers' yield and reducing production cost.

“These amendments (to the RTL) aim to provide quality affordable rice to Filipinos and increase the income of Filipino farmers and a crucial step towards ensuring food security and economic stability for our farmers,” Romualdez said.

“We are committed to making quality rice affordable for all Filipinos while boosting the livelihoods of our local farmers,” the lawmaker added.

In an ambush interview, Escudero said the proposals to amend the 1987 Constitution were not discussed, as he emphasized not wasting time on measures that might be vetoed.

"Hindi," Escudero said when asked if Charter change was discussed during the meeting.

"Ang sabi ko sa kanila is sa tagal ko sa Kongreso, bihira naman yung navi-veto dapat na bill. Kasi bakit namin ipapasa kung alam naman naming ivi-veto? So ibig sabihin hindi namin alam na ipapasa [o] na ivi-veto. Para hindi sayang yung pagod," he added.

He also noted some measures that were already at the bicameral conference committee level but ended up being returned to each chamber's plenary for further discussion.

Because of these instances, Escudero stressed efficient coordination not only between the two houses of Congress, but also with the Executive Department.

"The coordination must take place not only between the Senate and the House, but also with the Executive," he said.

"Di lang [Presidential Legislative Liaison Office] pati 'yung executive departments," he added.

For him, it is ideal for Congress to avoid a presidential veto.

"That would be the target. That would be the goal. Because, again, I've been in Congress combined for about 24 years. This was unthinkable during my first decade in Congress," he said.

Apart from the leaders of Congress, Escudero said PLLO Secretary Mark Llandro Mendoza was also present during the meeting. —with Hana Bordey/RF/VBL, GMA Integrated News