By Ma. Teresa Montemayor

Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu-Laurel Jr. (PNA file photo by Ben Briones)

MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) is not considering the proposed imposition of suggested retail price (SRP) on farm products, particularly rice.

“We’re not doing it. Prices of rice and other agricultural products in international markets like Thailand and other countries are volatile and fluctuating due to El Niño. Hence, we’re not suggesting to control prices at the moment,” Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu-Laurel Jr. said in a news release Thursday.

Earlier proposals for an SRP “was just an idea based on available remedies” according to the Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act, he said.

The Price Act Law empowers the DA to stabilize prices of farm products and inputs, including rice, fish, meat, poultry even fertilizers, in times of emergencies.

The provision of the Price Act requires the creation of implementing rules and regulations (IRR) before the DA could exercise the power.

“I’m well aware that setting retail prices, even if just suggested, for particular goods tend to be counterproductive, especially when there is ample supply,” Tiu-Laurel said. “In most cases, farmers bear the brunt of a price limit because traders will only lower their purchase prices to keep their margins. Consumers also don’t benefit in such a situation. It could also fuel price speculation and supply hoarding that evolves into another problem altogether.”

Since a strong El Niño episode is expected, international rice prices are fluctuating as countries try to increase their rice reserves through importation on concerns of potential drop in harvest.

The agency assured sufficient water supply that could sustain strong rice output based on the report of the National Irrigation Administration’s Upper Pampanga Integrated Irrigation System, which provides water to farms in major rice-producing provinces of Nueva Ecija, Bulacan and Pampanga.

“We’re building up a buffer, largely through importation, to ensure we have ample supply of rice as we await the next harvest starting March. This should help keep prices stable without government intervention,” Tiu-Laurel said.

He said the crafting of the Price Act IRR is “a clear warning” to those who may want to exploit the situation — that the DA is empowered by law to go after them.

“We will not hesitate to use the powers and remedies at our disposal to ensure that our farmers and consumers are amply protected against those who may want to exploit any supply shortage,” he added. (PNA)