By Filane Mikee Cervantes

House of Representatives. (PNA file photo)

MANILA – The measure amending the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) to allow the National Food Authority (NFA) to sell rice to markets at a lower price hurdled the committee level at the House of Representatives.

During the hearing on Tuesday, the House Committee on Agriculture and Food approved the unnumbered substitute bill, which would reinstate the authority of the NFA to sell rice to the public for price and supply stability.

The committee approval came a day after President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. announced that he would certify the proposed legislation as urgent, explaining that amending the charter of the NFA and the RTL would give the government the needed leeway to act when retail prices of rice go up.

In an interview, Committee chair, Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, said the presence of NFA in the market would help “stabilize the price of rice.”

Enverga said the NFA should always be ready to intervene in the market to bring down prices, especially in emergency cases.

“So, kung saan meron mga nakikitang mga pagkakamali sa merkado, they have the power to enter para mabagsak po natin yung presyo (So if they see anything wrong with the market, they have the power to enter and pull the price down),” he said.

Under the current law, the NFA’s mandate is limited to ensuring buffer stocks for disasters.

He said it is crucial that local price coordinating councils and the National Price Coordinating Council monitor prices and coordinate the NFA’s market intervention.

Speaker Martin Romualdez, meanwhile, said reinstating the mandate of the NFA not only to buy palay from farmers but to sell rice directly to consumers would make affordable rice accessible to the public.

“It is important that we provide our people, especially the poor, access to rice that is much cheaper than market prices,” Romualdez said.

He also earlier said that by adjusting the framework for rice importation and enhancing the NFA’s presence in the market, the government could better protect rice prices from the volatility caused by international markets and the predatory practices of some traders.

“This will lead to more stable and predictable pricing for consumers while ensuring farmers receive a fair price for their produce,” Romualdez said.

The House, he said, would expedite the process of amending the RTL and ensure that the amendments are passed on the third and final reading before the sine die congressional break on May 25.

Romualdez said the House and the Department of Agriculture have agreed to work together to achieve “an ambitious goal” of reducing the price of rice to less than PHP30 per kg. in certain parts of the country starting in July through Kadiwa stores.

The current price ranges from PHP40 to PHP50.

Deputy Majority Leader for Communications, ACT-CIS Party-list Rep. Erwin Tulfo, meanwhile, urged the Senate to adopt the House version of the RTL amendments.

“Pakiusap po namin sa Senate. Baka pwede naman ho, sumabay na lang ho kayo sa version namin. Isantabi ho muna natin ‘yung mga business interest, personal interest natin. Unahin po muna natin ‘yung interest ng mga tao, ng nakakarami ho sa atin. Otherwise, wala ho mangyayari (If possible, they should just adopt our version. Let us set aside business and personal interests. Let us prioritize the public interest. Otherwise, we won’t get anywhere),” Tulfo said.

“Why don’t we just do our work? Let us unite para sa isang mission, ang mission natin, (to achieve one mission, our mission) everybody can buy rice.”

As for corruption issues, Tulfo said these could be addressed by passing the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act.

“Besides, eh, trabaho na ho ng mga… agencies natin, manghuli ng mga corrupt, ng mga officials, ng mga employees, di po ba (It is the job of our agencies to catch corrupt officials and employees). That is not the problem of the people. The problem of the people right now – cheap rice. And we have to answer this immediately,” he said. (PNA)