Duterte withdraws suspension of rice imports

President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday withdrew his earlier pronouncement to stop the further entry of rice commodities into the Philippines, and instead sought for the ramp up of importation to help subsidize palay farmers.

Duterte—during a meeting with his Cabinet secretaries—was said to have ordered Agriculture Secretary William Dar to continue with the rice importation.

He said that Duterte issued instead a directive to the Department of Agriculture’s attached agency—Bureau of Plant Industry—to implement the strict issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance.

“The agency will conduct pre-inspection at the point of origin of imported rice stock to ensure rice quality and safety for consumers and at the same time protect the spread of crop pests and diseases,” Dar told the Philippine media.

The president on Tuesday ordered the suspension of rice imports into the Philippines following protests from rice farmers who were seeking to stop the importation amid a now 20-percent drop in the farm gate prices of grains as a result of the enactment of the rice tariffication law in February this year.

A farmers group questioned the legality of the order since there was no provision giving powers to the president to suspend rice importation under Republic Act No. 11203.

Following the passage, the Philippines has become this year’s world’s top buyer, dislodging China from the first spot.

On a year-to-date basis, the Philippines has so far imported some 2.9 million tons of rice, more than double the annual average of 1.3 million in recent years.

“[The president] said that the Rice Tariffication Law will be pursued to provide affordable and quality rice to all Filipinos,” Dar said.

The rice tariffication measure was passed into law to help tame inflation which soared to as high as 6.7 percent in September last year.

Among the salient points were the removal of import restrictions on rice with tariffs; lifting of quantitative restrictions; and the permission for the National Food Authority (NFA) to procure its buffer stock from the country’s farmers.

The law also mandated the creation of a Rice Comprehensive Enhancement Fund which provides for P10 billion annually for six years to ensure that duties collected from imported rice will help local farmers.

High officials from the government have many times dismissed statements that the law will hurt local farmers.

In October this year, the Department of Agriculture said that the government is planning to release some P3 billion aid to affected farmers.