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Agri groups demand resignation of Diokno and Balisacan over rice tariff controversy

In a strongly-worded joint statement, multiple agricultural organizations have called for the dismissal of Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and National Economic and Development Authority Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, accusing them of advocating for a drastic reduction in rice tariffs from 35% to 10%.

According to these agricultural groups, such a tariff reduction would be detrimental to rice farmers and various industry stakeholders, likening it to a “death sentence.”

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, Federation of Free Farmers, Philippine Confederation of Grains Associations, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, Pambansang Mannalon, Mag-uuma, Magbabaul, Magsasaka ng Pilipinas, and National Movement for Food Sovereignty jointly criticized Diokno and Balisacan for allegedly displaying favoritism towards importers and acting hastily when importers’ profits are at risk while ignoring the plight of suffering farmers.

In their statement, the agricultural groups asserted that these actions by Diokno and Balisacan not only misrepresented the President but also tarnished his reputation. They demanded the removal of both officials from the cabinet, holding them accountable for their contentious public statements, including their complaints about not being consulted regarding the President’s decision to impose rice price ceilings.

The agricultural groups further criticized the recent public hearing on rice tariffs, held on September 15, 2023, describing it as a sham.

They expressed concern over the extraordinary speed with which the Tariff Commission (TC) acted on the Foundation for Economic Freedom’s (FEF) petition to lower tariffs. FEF had submitted its petition on September 8, 2023, with the TC issuing an advisory just one working day later.

FEF chairman Leonardo Montemayor voiced his skepticism during the hearing, asserting, “Lutong macau ito. Tapos na po ang boxing.”

The agricultural groups also raised concerns about the lack of transparency, noting that the TC did not make the FEF petition publicly available, and Montemayor had to request a copy.

FEF’s calculations regarding the impact of tariff cuts on farmers, income, rice prices, and production were also deemed insufficient, described only as “back of envelope calculations.”

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