MANILA - The Rice Tariffication Law is worse than supertyphoon Yolanda in terms of its damage to the livelihood of rice farmers, an alliance of farmers organizations and advocates said on Monday.
As palay prices dropped amid the flood of imported grain, the farmers' groups said total losses for rice farmers this year could reach P140 billion, or P30,000 per hectare.
"This is more than 10 times the damage wrought by Typhoon Yolanda to the agriculture sector in 2013, and it is all man-made," the farmers said in a statement.
The alliance, which includes the Federation of Free Farmers, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Alyansa Agrikultura, said that the losses incurred by around 2.1 million rice farmers have resulted in a brewing socio-economic and humanitarian crisis in already poverty-stricken rural areas.
"Farmers will default on their debt payments and may fail to borrow again for the next season," the groups said.
On Nov. 20, the farmers' groups said they will hold a "national day protest" to call for a stop to rice imports.
The farmers are demanding the immediate suspension of the tariffication law and a "comprehensive review of its effects on the rice industry."
"Based on this study, the law may then be amended or, if necessary, repealed and replaced with a better piece of legislation," the farmers said.
They also want the government to compensate rice farmers and stakeholders for the losses incurred because of the law.
President Rodrigo Duterte has apologized to rice farmers over low prices of the grain but said he would not repeal the rice tariffication law since doing so might result in a "food crisis."
"I can always order the higher tariffs if needed. Binabalanse ko lang (I'm just balancing it)," he told ABS-CBN News' Ted Failon in an exclusive interview.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar earlier said the volume of rice allowed to enter the country "drastically dropped" in October after the government imposed stricter sanitary requirements on imported grains.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, said economic managers will meet to discuss the President's statement.
“Syempre pag-uusapan natin yan, and perhaps we can discuss that in the next Cabinet meeting,” Nograles said.
Farmers' groups, meanwhile, are calling on consumers to to support local rice growers by buying local rice directly from them or through their associations or cooperatives.
- With a report from Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News