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Cho Roco Says No to Privatization of Rice Imports

QUEZON CITY - Representative Cho Roco (Aksyon Dernokatriko, 2nd District, Camarines Sur) is strongly opposed to the passage of a bill that would grant the private sector authority to import rice, at the same time levying tariffs instead of imposing quantitative restrictions on rice imports.

This surfaced in the ongoing hearings on House Bill 3339, introduced by House Speaker Jose de Venecia and Cong. Benjamin A. Cruz, before the House Committee on Agriculture, Food & Fisheries of which Roco is a member.

HB 3339 has come under intense opposition from rice farmers and other groups who maintain that with safety nets that protect local agriculture against foreign competition still not in place, the bill will only destroy the local rice industry.

Groups such as Aniban ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (AMA), Sandigan at Ugnayan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas (SUMAPI), Kapisanan ng Magsasaka, Mangingisda, at Manggagawa ng Pilipinas, Inc. (KAMMMPI) and the party list Bayan Muna have expressed apprehensions that with the collapse of the rice sector due to the surge of cheap imported rice, farmers and their families will be displaced.

Applying the so-called "social soundness criteria", which considers the impact of any measure or project on sectors to be directly affected and society in general, Roco has likewise sought disapproval of the bill.

Roco agrees that without sufficient measures to assure the productivity and global competitiveness of local farmers, opening up the country to unrestricted rice imports wold be unsound policy. "On the surface, the measure appears to benefit rice farmers but numerous loopholes in it could be used to set up dummy importers or other wise circumvent the safety nets supposedly provided in HB 3339, opening the floodgates to cheap rice imports", Roco said.

The bill, in effect, divests from the National Food Authority (NFA) the sole power to import rice and transfers this to the private sector. Its critics, however, point out that this will only benefit moneyed rice traders and importers. Rice millers and traders who have invested heavily in improving their facilities also stand to lose their investments and means of livelihood, they added.