PANGILINAN CALLS FOR SENATE INQUIRY ON RICE TARIFFICATION
Did farmers get help from P10-billion rice fund? Did rice prices go down? Kiko asks
MANILA – Five months after the Rice Tariffication Act became law, about 200,000 farmers have stopped working on food production* and 4,000 rice mills have stopped operating**. With these, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has asked the Senate to review the impact of the law.
In Senate Resolution 36, Pangilinan asked the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food to conduct an inquiry on the impact of the law, Republic Act 11203, on rice farmers and the local rice industry.
“Ang sumbong sa atin ng mga magsasaka, wala na silang kita pagkaraang ipatupad ang batas na ito. ‘Pinapatay kami ng rice tariffication,’ sabi ng isang magsasaka mula Nueva Ecija na lumapit sa atin kamakailan (Farmers tell us that their earnings dropped further with the implementation of the law. ‘Rice tariffication is killing us’ said one farmer from Nueva Ecija who approached us),” said Pangilinan.
The resolution notes that the government’s economic team pushed for the passage of the law due to high rice prices, with inflation reaching a nine-year high of 6.7% in September to October 2018.
“Mabilis at brutal ang epekto ng batas sa ating mga magsasaka pero mabagal kung meron man ang implementasyon ng mga probisyon nitong naglalayong alwan ang matitinding epekto nito. Nasaan na ang sinasabing tulong mula sa sampung bilyong pisong Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund? (The impact of the law on our farmers is swift and brutal but the implementation of the provisions aimed at easing this severe effect is slow if non-existent. Where is the help from the P10-billion RCEF),” he asked.
RCEF, which is funded by tariffs generated by rice imports, is set up to make the domestic rice industry more competitive through farm mechanization, access to better seeds, and more financing and extension services, among others.
Quoting Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, the resolution notes that the steep drop in farm-gate prices of palay (unhusked) four months after the implementation of the law will result in an estimated loss of P114 billion for Filipino farmers for the entire year.
Farm-gate price of palay end-June fell by 16.4 percent to P17.77 per kilo, compared to last year’s P21.39 per kilogram, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Farmers groups claim that in some areas, the drop has been to as low as P12 per kilo.
“Bukod sa mga datos na nabanggit, inaasahan nating makikinig ang mga kinauukulan sa mga magssasaka para malaman ang tunay na aba nilang kalagayan. Dapat nakatuon ang Senate hearing sa mga maliliit na magsasakang apektado ng batas (Aside from the mentioned data, we hope concerned government officials will listen to the farmers so that they understand the dire straits farmers face. Special focus should be on the small-holder palay producers taking the brunt of the impact of the law),” Pangilinan said.
“Dapat tayong kumilos nang mabilis kundi baka gumising na lang tayong wala ng mga magsasaka ang bayan (We should act fast or we might wake up one day without farmers in our land),” he added.
What about the consumers?
At the other of the market chain, rice consumers also noted that retail rice prices have not gone down as promised by the law. On the second week of July, the PSA monitored the average retail price of regular- and well-milled rice ranging from P38.40 to P42.88 per kilo.
A week before the law took effect in March 5, rice prices in stores ranged from P40.65 to P44.58 per kilo.
Pangilinan said Filipino rice farmers are discouraged from toiling in the farms because their produce are purchased at lower prices, and despite the rice imports and the lower palay prices, consumers still buy rice high.
“Mukhang pati mga consumers hindi nakinabang sa batas na ito dahil wala nang NFA rice, na noon ay P27 hanggang P30 lang kada kilo sa mga NFA outlet (Even consumers did not seem to benefit from this law because now we don’t have NFA rice, which then cost only P27 to P30 per kilo in NFA outlets),” said Pangilinan.
“Sino nakinabang sa kalakarang ito? Para tayong na-double whammy (Who benefited from this policy? It looks like we’ve suffered a double whammy),” he said.
Pangilinan served as the Presidential Assistant on Agricultural Modernization from May 2014 to October 2015, when food prices were kept low even in the face of El Niño, a climate pattern that normally brings drought.
In his concurrent capacity as chairman of the National Food Authority (NFA) Council, he led the rejection of bids for government-to-government rice importation that were priced too high, and saved the government as much as P8 billion when the council eventually imported at lower prices.
Pangilinan believes that agriculture is the key to Philippine progress. He authored the recently signed Sagip Saka Act of 2019 which links farmers directly to buyers like government offices, to eliminate middlemen and effectively raise farmers’ incomes via entrepreneurial programs.
For the 18th Congress, he has filed 13 agriculture- and environment-related bills. They are: Senate Bills 31 on Coco Levy Trust Fund, 32 on creation of the Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, 33 on Postharvest Facilities, 34 on Organic Agriculture, 35 on Expanded Crop Insurance, 36 on Rainwater Management, 40 on Single-use Plastic Regulation, 256 on Agricultural Land Conversion Ban, 257 on Urban Agriculture, 263 on Solid Waste Importation Ban, 423 on Food Waste Reduction, 638 on Electric and Hybrid Vehicles Incentives, and 639 on National Mangrove Forest Protection and Preservation.