MANILA - The signing of the Rice Tariffication Law has made things worse for the country’s farmers, one of the poorest sectors, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Tuesday.
Pangilinan said the law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in February this year to address rice supply shortage and soaring inflation, is slowly killing the local farming industry after imported rice flooded the market.
“Pagkaraang ipatupad ang unrestricted rice importation, maraming rice farmers ang nagsusumbong sa atin sa bunga nitong pasakit,” Pangilinan, who served as former President Benigno Aquino III's Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, said in a privilege speech.
(After the unrestricted rice importation started, many farmers have lamented that they are suffering.)
Pangilinan said July farm-gate prices of palay (unhusked rice) was at P17.78 per kilogram, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority or P14.1 in 11 provinces, according to the Department of Agriculture.
These are between 17 percent and 34 percent lower than 2018 prices, he noted.
He said since the country produces about 20 billion kilograms of palay a year, farmers have lost as much as P60 billion since last year.
“If we talk about one farmer who averages 4,000 kilos of palay per harvest, he loses 4,000 pesos for every peso drop in palay prices in one season,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan said the P10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) provided by the law is not enough.
“Rice farmers all over the country have made the same conclusion: At this point, unrestricted rice imports without the immediate support for the rice farmers is killing them and the industry,” he said.
Rice millers have also opted to just buy lower-priced imported rice instead of sourcing palay from local farmers, he said.
This has resulted in a shortage of darak (rice bran) which is used by poultry and hog raisers as feeds. This threatens to push the prices of chicken and pork products up, Pangilinan warned.
And since imported rice have flooded the market, there is now little incentive for Filipino farmers to continue with their work.
“Nababalewala ang pagod ng Pilipinong magsasaka. Ang nangyayari, binubuhay natin ang mga magsasaka ng ibang bansa na tumatanggap ng malaking tulong sa gobyerno nila, habang ginugutom at namamatay ang kabuhayan ng ating mga magsasaka,” he said.
(The efforts of our farmers are put to waste. What happens is we end up supporting farmers from other countries while ours go hungry and without livelihood.)
Citing PSA data, Pangilinan said retail rice prices inched down by P1.83, lower than the envisioned price cut of P7 to P10.
HELP FARMERS ‘NOW’
Pangilinan said time is of the essence for the government since the wet harvest season is set to begin next month.
“I have to press on the urgency of the situation. The main harvest will start in September. If nothing is done, we are told, the fear is palay prices will plummet to 7 pesos per kilo,” he said.
“This can create social and political problems. We are proposing solutions because criticisms are not going to work and will not help our farmers.”
Pangilinan suggested the use of agriculture special safeguards under Republic Act 8800 that can be triggered by a volume or price threshold of imports.
He said an anti-dumping duty can also be imposed if the export price of a commodity is less than its normal value in the exporting country and is causing or threatening to cause injury to a domestic industry.
“It is a little harder to avail of these remedies, but the remedies are much larger and more effective that what the special safeguard duty can offer. The suggestion could be for the DA to start looking into these options,” he said.
Pangilinan also recommended that farmers be given direct cash assistance which can be sourced from the tariff collections.
He said the provision in the rice tariffication law allowing the sourcing of cash assistance from the excess of the P10 billion tariff collection should be revisited.
He suggested that the P10 billion RCEF, which is unprogrammed in the 2019 budget, be given directly to rice farmers together with the other P10 billion tariff already collected by the government, making available a total of P20 billion for immediate cash assistance to rice farmers.
He added the Department of Trade and Industry must also go after price manipulators, while the Philippine Competition Commission should investigate rice importers for possible exploitative acts.
The DA and the Agricultural Credit Policy Council should also expedite the grant of interest-free loans up to P25,000 to farmers under the Survival and Recovery Loan (SURE) Assistance.
Lastly, he also called for the granting of emergency employment for distressed farmers.
Pangilinan said the suffering of the country’s farmers must end, as the Filipino people would eventually reap the consequences of inaction over their plight.
“We cannot have our food producers going hungry. We cannot hope to be food secure as a nation if we are not farmer secure as a people,” he said.