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Recto wants gov’t to ensure consumer protection under rice tarrification bill

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Senator Ralph Recto has described as a “tough balancing act” Congress’ move to pass a law lifting the limits on rice importation but at the same time protect farmers’ interests.

The Senate has started deliberating on the proposed rice tariffication bill aimed at allowing the private sector to import rice but rice traders need to pay tariffs.

The proposed measure is also designed to ensure enough rice supply. However, Recto cautioned fellow lawmakers in approving the said hastily.

“Tama lang na kung ang panukala ay unli rice importation, unli din ang debate. This is a tough balancing act,” he said.

“We must hit the sweet spot that will protect farmers from bankruptcy and spare consumers from high rice prices,” he said.

The Senate President Pro-Tempore said, “Hindi pwedeng busog ang isa, gutom naman yung isa.”

“We should give what the rice consuming poor want without harming the rice producing poor. And there are millions of families in each column,” he said.

He noted that rice growing accounts for at least two million farmers. It is a P335 billion annual industry. The forecast is that the disruption will cost them P87.9 billion a year.

“One worst-case-scenario warns that a farmer stands to lose P19,200 per hectare in income,” he said.

“The challenge is to fill the pots with rice without leaving the pockets of farmers empty, or their farms abandoned,” Recto said.

He said that one way is to use duties paid on imported rice to boost rural productivity, not just of rice but all farm produce.

The senator from Batangas said that there is “no orthodoxy in proposing direct cash aid to the severely affected farmers.”

“Kasi kung fertilizer, halimbawa, ang ibibigay, imagine the logistical nightmare plus the moral hazards it will cause,” he said.

“Kailangan ng mga magsasaka ang direktang tulong because the poor state of irrigation and the advent of farm mechanization have made farming dependent on expensive oil,” he said.

Recto added, “24 oras umaandar ang water pump dahil mayfree irrigation nga, wala namang tubig. And every phase of rice production is now done by gas- or diesel-powered equipment.”

“So for a crucial—if not revolutionary—proposal that will affect the lives of 105 million of us, then rigorous study and spirited debate, as what had reportedly happened in the Cabinet, is a must,” he said.