When last September, the throat of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol and Mindanao leaders were getting hoarse clamoring for a review the rice tarrification law, the national government was busy saving Secretary Roy Cimatu for dolomiting the beach at the Manila Bay Walk.
Their problem was simple – rice importation remains un-impeded amid the tanking farm gate prices of paddy rice, that farmers have stopped planting.
At that time, Piñol noted that the farm gate prices of paddy rice have dropped from a rounded average of PHP22 per kilo two years ago to just PHP11 per kg. since Republic Act 11203, or “An Act Liberalizing the Importation, Exportation, and Trading of Rice”, was enacted late last year.
In fact, the Mindanao Development Authority governing board passed a resolution, without any opposition, unanimously urging both the House of Representatives and the Senate to review and amend the law, which allows the unimpeded entry of imported rice into the country.
He said the measure called for the “review of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) in the face of irrefutable evidence that the unimpeded rice importation has caused injury to the local rice industry and the rice farmers of Mindanao.”
I have shared again and again that even my farmers in Tiaong, Quezon are already surrendering to me their rights in exchange for amelioration funding. If they, whose average age is 57 years-old, resign their role in our society, who will take their place?
We might be facing a new kind of insurgency. While the communist terrorists are surrendering in drones in the hills and mountains throughout the country, farmers might turn to open rebellion in the plains.
Studies conducted by the Federation of Free Farmers showed that while rice consumers benefited from the lower rice prices at an estimated value of P6-B, rice farmers lost about P80-B because of reduced income as a result of very low farm gate prices.
There are also additional losses from ancillary activities to rice production, including land preparation equipment utilization, milling and processing by products like rice bran and rice hulls.
The solution is very simple, provide a subsidy to rice farmers equivalent to the differential from the actual farmgate buying to P22/per kilo that was the benchmark two years ago. They do this in Japan and in the USA, they do this in Europe and other industrialized countries because they cannot afford to risk their food security.
Where to get the money if the RCEF is not yet available? Try the Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, or 4Ps, a government program that provides conditional cash grants to the “non-productive” poorest of the poor in the Philippines. The congressmen and senators’ pork barrel is also a rich source of funds.
The resolution was presented as among the issues and problems which could affect Mindanao’s economic recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The problem is now nationwide.
Pacquiao to the rescue
In October, the farmgate prices sank even deeper to as low as P7 per kilo, prompting Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao before the month-end to seek an inquiry on the use of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) as he deplored flaws on Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the “Rice Tariffication Law.”
The senator pressed for the probe amid “the desperate pleas by the country’s 11 million farmers who are barely surviving because of the slump in the farm gate price of palay (unmilled rice).”
Pacquiao said farmers and farmers’ organizations sought his help to address the matter as they blamed the Rice Tariffication Law in the decline of the farm gate price of palay.
He lamented that many farmers had stopped planting rice or had completely abandoned farming. “Nalulungkot ako kasi isa ako sa mga author ng (I’m sad because I was one of the authors of the) Rice Tariffication Law. When the measure was presented and explained to me, I was assured that our farmers will not be left behind,” the senator added.
Pacquiao said in exercising Senate’s oversight powers on the implementation of RA 11203, he wanted to find out how much taxes have been collected from rice imports, how much have been allocated to the RCEF and how much have been disbursed to help the farmers.
“I also want to find out how to amend the Rice Tariffication Law to protect the farmers because this early, the law is already showing very serious flaws,” he added.
He also wants to know if the National Food Authority is compliant with the provision of RA 11203 which requires the agency to buy only from local farmers at a fair price.
He noted that before the implementation of RA 11203, the farm gate price of palay was averaged at P21.39 per kilo, but when imported rice started flooding the market, it dropped to P17.88 per kilo.
Some farmers disclosed that in Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Sorsogon, Tarlac and Laguna, the farm gate prices ranged from P10 per kilo down to P7 per kilo.
Pacquiao noted that RCEF was set up to improve rice farmers’ competitiveness and income amidst liberalization of the Philippine rice trade policy that lifted quantitative restrictions on rice imports and replaced it with tariffs, among others.
The Rice Tariffication Act removed the cap placed on imported rice that enter the Philippines to stabilize prices of the staple grain in local markets.
RCEF has a P10-billion annual appropriation for the next six years which will be drawn from taxes generated from rice import tariffs.
Based on the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulation, 50 percent of the RCEF will be used for the mechanization of Philippine agriculture purportedly to raise productivity, increase profitability and heighten global competitiveness.
The remaining 30 percent will be allotted for the Department of Agriculture’s seed program, while 10 percent will be used for the Expanded Rice Credit Assistance program which would fund loan facilities for farmers.
“On paper, napakaganda sana nitong RCEF na ito na nakalagay sa batas. Ang problema, mukhang wala namang nararamdaman ang ating mga farmers at wala namang nakakaabot sa kanila na biyaya (RCEF looked good on paper. The problem is farmers seemed to have been left behind). That is what I want to find out on this investigation,” Pacquiao said.
The senator said President Rodrigo Duterte’s vision of eradicating hunger would not come into fruition if the farmers who were responsible for food production did not have food on their own table.
Pinol visits Pacquiao
Reading the breaking news that Pacquiao was moving to investigate the Rice tarrification law, Piñol did not waste a day to see the senator travelling from Kidapawan to General Santos City.
Among the points he raised to the senator were:
1. Rice imports should only be at a volume needed to fill the supply shortfall;
2. An adjustable tariff schedule should be implemented so that when there is an oversupply, the tariff could be increased to levels where importing rice would not be profitable.
3. The President should be given the power to increase rice import tariffs even when Congress is in session. The current RTL virtually ties the hands of the President.
4. The apportionment of the RCE Funds should be amended to prioritize the four most important factors to improve productivity – irrigation, fertilization, post-harvest facilities, especially dryers and hybrid or high yielding seeds.
5. The provision which emasculates the National Food Authority and turns it into a simple rice buffer stocking agency should be revisited. The government must never surrender its regulatory powers over a very important commodity, rice.
These were the very issues that Piñol and other key officials of Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries and farmer stakeholders raised during the Senate deliberation on their version of the RT bill but our voices were drowned out.
Pacquiao’s resolution is expected to be referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture once the chamber resumes plenary work in November.
Last year, Senate Committee on Agriculture chair Cynthia Villar also urged her colleagues to investigate how the executive branch is spending the RCEF.
As absolute sovereigns, the people ought to be watching this more closely now, as it might spell the success or failure of this administration in the countryside, and its previous plans to alleviate the conditions of the masses. #