Business News

Farmers’ groups seek ouster of NEDA chief over reduced rice imports tariff

MANILA –  Various farmers’ groups are demanding the immediate resignation of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan after the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board approved the lower tariff on imported rice from 35 percent to 15 percent, in a bid allegedly to bring down the retail price of the staple.

Former agriculture secretary Leonardo Montemayor said that peasant organizations will personally write to President Marcos to remove Balisacan from his post.

Balisacan defended the  move to cut the tariff rate on imported rice, noting the move aims to ensure that Filipinos have access to nutritious and affordable food, particularly rice, while managing inflation and sustaining growth.

In a statement, Balisacan said the decision to reduce the tariff rate from 35 percent to 15 percent “was not made lightly.”

“We are aware of the concerns raised by our farmers regarding the recent decision of the NEDA Board to reduce the tariff rate of rice. We understand the apprehensions and emotions that this decision has caused,” Balisacan said.

Balisacan said the NEDA Board, composed of different Cabinet members and chaired by President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., has unanimously approved the Committee on Tariff and Related Matters (CTRM) recommendation on the new Comprehensive Tariff Program for 2024-2028.

“We will continue various types of protest actions, signature campaigns; and the visit to NEDA will not be very friendly, as we will reiterate our call for the removal of Secretary Balisacan,” Montemayor said.

Montemayor belied the claim of Balisacan that the retail price of rice will go down with the lower tariff on imported rice.

“The real world is very different from the imaginary world of Secretary Balisacan and NEDA. That’s why, NEDA should change its name to ‘national importation and dreamland authority’ or ‘NIDA.’ The P29 (per kilo price) of rice is more imaginary. It’s more aspirational than real. It does not happen in real life,” he added.

Montemayor said during the meeting with Finance Secretary Ralph Recto last week, he and Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. vowed to arrange a meeting between Marcos and leaders of various peasant organizations.

“We are working hard to get a face-to-face meeting with the President. We have to tell him that we want Secretary Balisacan to step down. We owe it to the President – and the entire Filipino people – to make these views known to him,” Montemayor said.

He added that a temporary restraining order will be filed in court once an executive order on the reduced tariff is formally issued.

Montemayor noted that the forgone revenues for the Bureau of Customs are at P70 billion, while local palay farmers will lose at least P88 billion annually.

Balisacan said that before the decision, the Tariff Commission (TC) held extensive consultations and reviews under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).

Balisacan said the consultation began as early as March 2023 with 801 stakeholders, including 192 from the agriculture sector.

In the most recent comprehensive tariff review, he said the TC also received position papers and comments from 41 private sector parties, a consumer group, 15 government agencies and a member of the House of Representatives.

Based on the inflation report of the Philippine Statistics Authority for the past three months, rice contributed over 50 percent to the headline inflation.

“Reducing rice tariffs is expected to bring down rice prices for consumers while supporting domestic production through tariff cover and increased budgetary support to improve agricultural productivity, especially as global rice prices remain elevated,” Balisacan said.

 Balisacan said the Marcos administration’s priority is increasing the productivity of the agriculture sector.

“That will mean we address the lack of irrigation development issues, the logistics issues, the marketing distribution issues, the access to seeds, access to planting materials, the access to fertilizers. Doon nakatutok ’yung suporta ng government (The government support is focused on that),” he said.

Balisacan noted that raising productivity is the only way to improve farmers’ welfare.

On calls for his resignation, Balisacan said it is up to the President to choose his Cabinet members.

“Of course, if the President finds a better person to run NEDA, I’ll be happy to accept that because all we care about is the country,” Balisacan added.