By Filane Mikee Cervantes

Session hall of the House of Representatives (File photo courtesy of the Speaker’s Office)

MANILA – The House of Representatives on Tuesday approved on final reading the measure seeking amendments to the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).

With 231 affirmative votes, 3 negative votes, and 1 abstention, the chamber approved House Bill 10381, which seeks to restore the price stabilization and supply regulation functions of the National Food Authority (NFA).

In an interview with PTV’s “Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon,” Agri Party-list Rep. Wilbert Lee said the NFA’s role would be an “equalizer” by purchasing palay (unhusked rice) from local farmers at a higher price and selling it at a lower price to consumers.

“Under po dito sa RTL natin ay nawala po ang mandato na ito ng NFA. Ang naging mandato nila ay bumili na lang para sa buffer stock. Ito iyong pinakamahalaga na gusto nating ibalik sa pag-amyenda ng RTL Law na ito. Iyan po ang gusto nating mangyari na ma-ibalik po sa NFA ang mandato nila ng pagbili ng mas mataas at magbenta ng mas mura (Under the RTL, this [market intervention] mandate of the NFA was removed. The only mandate left to them is to buy buffer stock. This is the most important mandate that we want to restore by amending the RTL. That’s what we want to happen: To restore the NFA’s mandate to buy high and sell low),” Lee said.

The bill proposes that the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary, upon the recommendation of the National Price Coordinating Council (NPCC) or Local Price Coordinating Council (LPCC), may declare a food security emergency when there is a shortage in the supply of rice, sustained increase in the price of ric or extraordinary increase in the price of rice.

When such cases occur, the NFA may use existing inventory, primarily intended for buffer stocking, to supply areas where price increases or supply shortages occur.

It also mandates the maintenance of sufficient buffer stock requirements sourced from local farmers’ organizations and cooperatives.

If the buffer stock requirement is still not sufficient, the NFA is allowed to, in the following order, purchase local milled rice; purchase up to a maximum of 30 percent brought in by accredited importers at cost; and as a final recourse, once all domestic sources have been exhausted, directly import rice, subject to explicit authorization from the agriculture secretary.

The proposed measure authorizes the NFA to require registration of all grain warehouses and conduct inspections to ensure compliance with rice quality and supply standards.

These functions, according to the bill, would allow the NFA to leverage its “established expertise and nationwide network to uphold the national interest, in rice buffer stocking and food security.”

Aside from empowering the NFA, the bill also proposes that the base amount of the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) be increased from the current PHP10 billion to PHP15 billion.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. earlier certified as urgent the bill proposing to amend the RTL, citing the need for the government to have control over or influence the local rice market.

The RTL amendment is expected to bring down the price of rice by PHP10 to PHP15 per kilogram. (PNA)