MANILA — Some farmers groups are unhappy with the agricultural commodity import liberalization and the Coco Levy Act, contrary to how it was touted by President Rodrigo Duterte during the his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday.
Duterte on Monday mentioned his administration’s legacy in the agriculture sector, including the Rice Tariffication Law passed in 2019, that allowed the importation of rice while imposing a tariff depending on the volume.
The law also assures a P10-billion annual budget from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) which comes from the tariff revenues of rice imports.
"This resulted in the stabilization of rice supply and food prices. The proceeds from the tariffs enabled us to provide our farmers with modern machineries that increased their yield and sustaining the growth in agricultural production" Duterte said in his speech.
Farmers debunked this, as retail prices of rice remain high, according to the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag).
Sinag chairman Rosendo So said the prices of rice, despite the liberalized rice imports, keep going up.
"Hindi totoo yun kasi kung titingnan natin ang rice ng 2015, ang presyo ng bigas P34 lang yung regular-milled rice. Ngayon kung titingnan natin maski malaki ang ini-import, ang presyo P38, 4 pesos higher. Yung sinabi ng NEDA na bababa yung presyo ng bigas which is hindi nangyari. Tumaas pa ng 4 pesos compared to previous years," he said.
He also lamented that the National Food Authority is no longer allowed to sell NFA Rice for P27 or P32 a kilo, but is now limited to maintaining a buffer stock of rice for calamities and emergencies.
The presence of cheap rice in the market served as a balance in the prices of other kinds of commercial rice, So said.
“Nawala yung P27 na bigas na dating nagdi-distribute ng NFA. Yung level ng importation hindi nakatulong sa presyo ng rice. Same with baboy na ang laki ng ini-import natin ngayon, binaba ang taripa pero sa consumer mataas pa rin ang presyo ng baboy.”
So also urged the government to investigate whether the promised annual P5 billion allocated for farm machineries is really being distributed to farmers.
“Up to now gusto natin malaman kung saan na-distribute kasi yung P10 billion, dapat P5 billion ang mapupunta yearly doon sa mga farm equipment so dapat malaman natin kung na-distribute yun yearly, yun ang dapat tignan mabuti.”
Meanwhile, Duterte also mentioned the passage of the RA 11524 or the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act which promises development for many coconut farmers and workers in the Philippines.
“We have returned also the Coco Levy funds to its true and rightful owners – our coconut farmers. The fund is now worth an estimated to be P75 billion, which will be utilized according to the plans and programs in the Coconut Farmers and Industry Development Plan for the direct benefit of the coconut farmers and the development of the coconut industry,” Duterte said.
However, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) national manager Raul Montemayor said farmers are not happy about the law.
“Yung unang version ng coco levy, vineto niya yun and that version basically allowed for more farmer representation in handling the coco levy fund. Pero vineto niya dahil ayaw daw niya na masyadong makikialam yung private sector in handling that fund,” he said.
This was eventually replaced with another version, he said, which ultimately removed all representations of the coconut farmers’ sector from the committee which decides on how the fund will be utilized.
“Hindi yan yung gusto ng farmers na Coco Levy Act, and at the very least since sila naman yung owners ng perang yan, pinapangasiwaan lang ng gobyerno ang perang yan para sa kabutihan ng farmers, they should have allowed for substantial participation ng farmers in the management of that fund. Hindi kami masaya sa nangyari sa Coco Levy Act.”
Both Sinag and FFF said the government’s focus is on importation rather than production, or assisting the local farmers in terms of their profitability, or increasing their competitiveness.
“Ang nakikita natin sa direction ng government, dahil binaba nila ang taripa ng bigas, baboy, mechanically deboned meat, ang nakikita namin direction ng government is to import, import, import,” So said.
“Dati kasi ang focus ng agriculture, production eh. Food self-sufficiency, increasing yung production not only in rice but also in other products pero pagpasok niya, yung time na yung policy shift towards trade liberalization was heightened eh nakita natin yan sa case ng rice,” Montemayor added.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) meanwhile said these are all just the perception of the farmers, adding that the country’s rice production was at record-high at 19.44 million metric tons in 2020, with a rice self-sufficiency rate of 90 percent.
Fermin Adriano, Senior Policy Adviser to DA Secretary William Dar, likened the situation to Singapore.
“Hindi nangangahulugan na iniiwan ang magsasaka, at hindi nangangahulugan na nag-iimport ka wala ka nang food security. Pag tiningnan mo ang Singapore, 90 percent ng pagkain ng Singapore ay imported pero hindi sila food insecure,” he explained.
He also said that because of the pandemic, the country’s food production and supply was jeopardized.
“Ang paraan lang po na mapunan ang kakulangan o kawalan ay mag-iimport ka kasi kailangan kumain ng tao eh… Hihintayin pa ba ang local production kung kaya namang mag-import para pakainin sila kagad," Adriano said.