P20-billion emergency aid sought for farmers hurt by rice imports

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 14 2019 11:58 AM

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The government should give P20 billion in emergency cash assistance to farmers who have suffered income loss due to unrestrained rice imports, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Wednesday.

President Rodrigo Duterte in February signed a law that removed the cap on rice imports to address a supply shortage and soaring inflation.

With imports flooding the market, local farmers are now selling palay at P17 per kilo, down from P21 per kilo last year, said Pangilinan.

Since the country produces about 20 billion kilos of palay annually, farmers have lost as much as P60 billion since last year, he said.

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, farmers would get cash assistance after levies collected from imports exceed P10 billion, Pangilinan said.

"Gusto nating gawin, amyendahan ang batas by way of a joint resolution ng House and Senate para iyung cash assistance component, kahit hindi ba umabot ng P10 billion, pwede nang ilaan para sa mga magsasaka bilang direktang assistance dahil talaga namang direktang nabawasan ang kanilang kita," he said.

(We want to amend the law by way of a joint resolution ng House and Senate so that the cash assistance, even if the collected tariffs have not yet reached P10 billion, can be distributed to farmers as direct assistance because their income have been directly reduced.)

The price of palay, he warned, can slide to P7 per kilo during the harvest season from September to December.

"'Pag hindi tayo kumilos this second half [of the year], bumagsak ang presyo, walang assistance sa farmers... hindi na sila magsasaka, ibebenta na lang ang kanilang lupain," he said.

(If we will not act in this second half of the year, when the price of palay falls further and there is no assistance for farmers, they might quit farming and just sell their land.)

Pangilinan also urged authorities to create an inter-agency task force against Customs officers and traders who may be colliding to smuggle rice imports through undervaluation.

Some traders, for instance, are declaring 5-percent broken rice as 25-percent broken, or undervaluing a 500-kilo import haul as 400 kilos, said the senator, citing sources from when he was still chairman of the National Food Authority Council.

DZMM, August 24, 2019