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Ending safeguards probe on rice imports legal–DA

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday said it did not violate any laws in terminating its motu proprio safeguards investigation on rice imports after an agriculture group floated the idea that the department may face charges for its action.

The DA maintained that it chose to sideline the trade remedy after the Cabinet decided that imposing safeguard duties on rice imports would be inflationary.

Besides, the DA argued that giving cash assistance to Filipino rice farmers, who are now suffering from low palay prices, would be the “best way” to address their present situation.

The department reacted to the statement of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (Pcafi) that the department may face lawsuits  for “illegally” refusing to enforce “mandated” safeguards against rice imports. “There is no violation. I don’t think so. It’s their own thinking. Every group or individual has their own opinion or matter,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a press briefing on Monday.

“This is how we handle this in the government. Because of the potential inflationary effects, meanwhile, that is set aside. The best way to intervene now is to give cash assistance,” Dar added.

In standing firm on the DA’s decision to terminate the safeguards, Dar argued that the “government has to see broader sense of things.”

Nonetheless, Dar pointed out that imposing safeguard duties remains to be one of the government’s tool to protect farmers and would be used at the “right time.”

In a statement over the weekend, Pcafi criticized the DA and the economic managers for allegedly committing an “illegal act” for the “deliberate abandonment of its poorest sector” in terminating the safeguards investigation on rice imports.

“It is explicitly indicated in Section 10 Republic Act 11203 or rice tariffication law Section 10 that in order to protect the Philippine rice industry from extreme price fluctuations, a special safeguard duty—SSG—on rice shall be imposed. As such it is incumbent upon government to enforce the safeguards legal mandate,” the group said.

“Although it is not their [DA and economic managers’] intention, but the argument that we should choose 105 million Filipinos as against 10 million farmers is like Hitler justifying the killing of 6 million German Jews to save the German Aryan nation,” it added.

Pcafi said the DA and economic managers are “misleading the public by claiming that implementing” safeguard measures is inflationary.

The proposed P3-billion direct cash assistance, it said, is an “insult” to rice farmers.

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