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Voting 14-0-0, the Senate on Wednesday approved on third and final the proposed measure liberalizing rice importation in the country.

The senators passed Senate Bill 1998 or Rice Tariffication Bill which amends Republic Act 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act.

Senator Joel Villanueva hailed the approval of SB 1998 which imposes 35 percent duty on imports coming from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states and 50 percent for non-ASEAN member states.

“As one of the authors of the bill, it has been our consistent call to liberalize the entry of cheaper rice in the country to ease the burden of our kababayans suffering from the rising price of rice,” Villanueva said.

“We also sincerely thank the bill’s principal sponsor, Sen. Cynthia Villar, and our colleagues for supporting the passage of this measure,” he added.

Another salient provision of the bill is to establish a “rice enhancement fund” worth 10 billion pesos from proceeds of the proposed rice tariffs.

The fund will be utilized to provide different forms of assistance to our domestic rice farmers such as the development of inbred rice seeds for our farmers, the development of rice farm equipment, and skills enhancement.

“We hope that the immediate enactment of this measure will ensure that our country would not have to suffer rice shortages and, at the same time, discourage the smuggling of rice, a plague that has long been infecting this country,” Villanueva said.

Villar has accepted the amendments introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore, Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon, and Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

“The increase or decrease of farmers’ incomes shall be the primary benchmark in granting their interventions,” Pangilinan said.

“We just would like to emphasize that the interventions should in the end lead to better incomes of our farmers,” the opposition senator said.

He added, “Otherwise, what is the point of putting all these interventions when our farmers remain poor. And the best determinant of whether or not the interventions are effective is if they are earning more.”