De Lima rejects Alcala stand on rice importation quotas

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Justice Secretary Leila de Lima rejected the Department of Agriculture’s stance on rice imports in her letter to DA Secretary Proceso Alcala; too, she questioned the National Food Authority over its imposition of quantitative restrictions on rice imports.

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De Lima admitted sending the 12-page document, which thumbed down the DA’s position on the expired World Trade Organization (WTO)-granted “special privilege” allowing the Philippines to impose quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports.

But de Lima said the letter dated December 16, 2013 and marked “Confidential” addressed to Alcala, was a mere letter and not a legal opinion.

She, however, claimed that her letter was made because of Alcala’s “request for opinion” whether the expired quota restrictions “can still be enforced by the government, through your Department [DA] and the National Food Authority [NFA] . . .”

She explained that the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) comments and observations in the written document were only for the agency’s information and guidance.

“We are also quite aware that said law also gives the NFA [such]power[s]. . . However, in the exercise of such rule-making power, the NFA cannot close its eyes to the provisions of the WTO Agreement, which, by the acts of both the President and the Senate, became part of our body of law,” the DOJ chief pointed out as she proceeded on a point-by-point legal rebuttal of all DA-NFA arguments on why QR should remain in effect despite its expiration on 30 June 2012.

The DOJ’s observations was made in view of Alcala’s position that the Agricultural Tariffication Act (RA 8178) allowed the NFA “continuing authority” to impose quotas.

De Lima told Alcala that the NFA “cannot pick and select which to honor and which to disregard” and “cannot derogate from the terms that the President agreed to and the Senate concurred in.

“Therefore, it is our opinion that the WTO provisions on the lifting of QRs as well as their exceptions, and the provisions on negotiations for its extension are already effective and should be complied with,” de Lima concluded.

In 1995, the WTO first granted the Philippines a 10-year special treatment for rice and an extension was negotiated and granted in 2004 prior to its 2005 expiration.

However, the extension lapsed on June 30, 2012.

The Philippines had twice been denied pleas for extension of special treatment’s expiration even before current negotiations for a second extension until 2017.

But, the DFA and the NFA, insisted that the authority to implement QR remains in effect during the course of the negotiations and unless challenged by WTO member countries.

De Lima, in her letter, rejected the DFA-NFA insistence on such quotas.

“. . . Since the Philippines’ request for the extension of its QR on rice until 2017 is still pending, and there is thus no existing agreement to ‘extend’ such authority (or more accurately, grant a new one since the first one had already lapsed), the Philippine Government should honor and implement the effect of the expiration of the period granted to it . . .” de Lima mentioned in the letter.

Under the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept), the country is supposedly bound by provisions of the WTO Agreement and could not impose restrictions unilaterally.

“To renege on this agreement, consent to which was manifested by the act of both the President and the Senate in accordance with the Philippine Constitution, is beyond the power of a mere implementing agency like the NFA, which must exercise its rule-making and regulatory powers in accordance with, and not contrary to, applicable laws,” de Lima’s letter further explained.

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