MANILA – After more than 20 years of restrictions on the amount of rice the Philippines can import, what can the government do now to help Filipino rice farmers cope when cheap imported rice start to flood the local market?
This is the main question that Senator Francis Pangilinan wants answered at today’s hearing on the World Trade Organization’s quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice which will end in June 2017.
The 1995 deadline for the QR lifting on rice has been extended three times: first in 2005 and then in 2015, and finally June 2017.
“That’s eight short months from now. What can government do now? What are the implications if we don’t lift the QR? I also want to know: Where does the 35% tariff on imported rice go?” said Pangilinan, chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.
“We should prepare our farmers for the lifting of QR by allocating subsidies to them for machinery, seedlings, inputs, post-harvest facilities,” he suggested.
At the Partnerships against Poverty Summit of Vice President Leni Robredo last week, Pangilinan pointed out that solving poverty means raising the incomes of farmers and fisher folk, as poverty incidence is highest among them at around 38%.
The senator added that an estimated half of the country’s population earns either directly or indirectly from agriculture.
Pangilinan has filed several legislative measures to increase incomes in agriculture. This includes the Sagip Saka bill, which requires national and local government agencies to help small farmers and fishers cluster themselves and sell directly to food distributors and consumers. Seeking to bypass middlemen and consolidators, the measure also requires government to directly buy food products from accredited agricultural cooperatives, and grants tax incentives to private entities and corporations that buy directly from farmers and fisher folk enterprises.
The senator has also filed the Coco Levy Trust Fund Act which will enable coconut farmers to use the P75-billion trust fund recovered from Marcos cronies to improve the coconut industry and increase the incomes of coconut farmers and workers.
“Pag maunlad ang buhay ng magsasaka, maunlad din ang buhay ng bayan,” Pangilinan said.