Group questions gov’t rice import plan
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) has questioned the legality of the government’s move to import an additional 300,000 metric tons (MT) of rice on top of the imports being brought in by the private sector as this runs counter to the rice tariffication law.
Earlier this week, state-owned Philippine International Trading Corp. (PITC), which operates under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), formally opened the government-to-government bidding of 25-percent broken white rice with an approved budget of P7.45 billion—bigger than the P7-billion funding given to the National Food Authority to procure local palay.
Under the rice tariffication law’s implementing rules and regulations, the government should import rice only “in the event of [a] rice supply shortage” and only upon the issuance of a directive from the President to the trade secretary and the PITC. However, Agriculture Secretary William Dar reiterated in several statements that the country had adequate rice supply, adding that total inventory by year-end—local production and imports combined—would be equivalent to 94 days of consumption. The computation also included the 300,000 MT of rice contracted by the PITC, which would contribute 9 days worth of supply.
“If, as Secretary Dar implies, there is no rice shortage, then there is no legal basis for PITC to import rice under the [rice tariffication law],” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor said.
The group added that there had been no official pronouncement of a rice shortage nor a formal authorization from the President for the DTI and PITC to proceed with the importation.
“[The Inter-agency Task Force] merely endorsed to the Office of the President the proposal of the DA (Department of Agriculture) to import rice through the PITC as a contingency measure. It is not clear, however, what contingency is being addressed considering that the DA has repeatedly stressed that we have more than enough rice up to the end of the year,” Montemayor added.
The FFF warned that the disbursement for the PITC imports might be disallowed by the Commission on Audit and PITC officials involved could be charged with graft if the proper legal basis for the imports was not established.
It likewise questioned the government’s rationale to add to the private sector’s imports considering that the new rice law was supposed to remove any government active role in the rice trade.
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