Let’s arrest the devastation caused by unrestricted rice imports on our farmers

PRIVILEGE SPEECH | Sen. Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan
Let’s arrest the devastation caused by unrestricted rice imports on our farmers

Mister Senate President, fellow Senators, magandang hapon po sa ating lahat.

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege, as a Member of the Senate and as a Filipino who cannot live without rice. In a manner of speaking, I rise for rice. I rise on behalf of our rice farmers and the rice industry now facing serious challenges in the aftermath of a deregulated rice industry.

My speech is about the suffering and the losses our rice farmers and the difficulties they are confronted with and a plea in their behalf to find solutions to their urgent need for income and for — like many of us here are grateful to have — at least three square meals a day.

Pinapakinggan tayo ngayon through FB Live ng mga rice farmers sa Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Pangasinan, at Isabela.

Ang nagpapakain sa atin, ang mga magsasaka ay naghihirap at nagugutom. At kapag hindi natin tinutukan ang kanilang kahirapan at gutom, hindi malayong magugutom din ang buong bansa. We cannot have our food producers going hungry. We cannot hope to be food secure as a nation if we are not farmer secure as a people.

Five months after the Rice Tariffication Act became law, what has happened to our rice farmers, our rice industry, and our rice production? Pagkaraang ipatupad ang unrestricted rice importation, maraming rice farmers ang nagsusumbong sa atin sa bunga nitong pasakit. Allow me to point out at the onset that the objectives and the intention of the rice tariffication measure are laudable. It recognized that while consumers would in the long run benefit from the inflow of cheap imported rice, the farmers would however be affected adversely and as such needed the support by way of the RCEF or the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. Isa sa naging problema ay hindi agad maramdaman ng ating mga magsasaka ang suporta mula sa RCEF at ang kilos ng gobyerno. At dahil dito hirap at gutom ang resulta.

Noong Abril, may isang magsasaka mula Nueva Ecija ang lumapit sa atin. Sabi niya, “Pinapatay kami ng rice tariffication.” Binibili raw ng dose pesos kada kilo ang kanyang ani, e mula dose pesos hanggang trese pesos ang gastos niya o production cost. E noong nakaraang taon, binibili ang ani niya ng 21.50 pesos. Halos kalahati nalang.

According to the farmers, tumaas din ang cost of labor nila. Nadagdagan ng singil ang mga farm laborers sa planting dahil nawalan sila ng kita sa pag harvest sa pagdating ng mga harvester. Yung nawalang kita sa kanila sa harvesting, pinataw nila sa planting kaya tumaas rin ang cost of production.

And despite the Free Irrigation Law, dahil din sa kakulangan sa tamang pagpapatupad ng batas, may binabayaran pa rin sila para ma-ambunan sila ng patubig. ‘Pag wala silang bayad, walang rasyon, wala rin mag-me-maintain ng irigasyon.

Yung ibang farmers binibenta na kanilang lupa kesa paulit-ulit malugi.

Sa Isabela, na isang rice-producing province, maraming imported rice sa mga palengke kaya patuloy na bumabagsak ang presyo ng palay.

Kahit ang NFA hindi rin binibili ang kanilang palay — di lamang dahil sa presyo, kundi dahil puno rin ang kanilang mga warehouse ng imported na bigas. Kaya naman napipilitan ang ating mga magsasaka na itambak ang kanilang palay sa kani-kanilang mga bahay, sa pag-asang maibebenta na rin nila ito nang hindi palugi. Pero tandaan natin na magsisimula ngayong Setyembre ang wet harvest season, kung saan pinakamalaki ang ating ani. 60% ng ating rice harvest ay dumadating between September and December. Kung hindi nila maibebenta ang nakaimbak na palay, mapipilitan silang ibenta ito ng mas mura pa sa darak — gaya ng naisumbong sa atin. Masakit sa loob ng magsasaka na pagkain na ng baboy ang pinaghirapan niya sa loob ng mahigit tatlong buwan.

Official data also support their claim. On July 2019, farm-gate prices of palay (unhusked rice) was at either 17.78 pesos per kilo (according to the Philippine Statistics Authority) or 14.10 pesos (in 11 provinces, said the Department of Agriculture). These are between 17 percent (using the PSA data) and 34 percent (DA data) lower than 2018 prices.

Magkano ang ikinalugi ng mga magsasaka?

The country produces about 20 million metric tons of palay or 20 billion kilos of palay every year. So, for every one peso drop in palay prices per kilo, that’s 20 billion pesos that our farmers lose. Mahigit 3 piso kada isang kilo ng palay ang nawala mula 2018 at ngayong 2019. Multiply the drop of 3 pesos per kilo by 20 billion pesos and the total amount that our farmers lost would be 60 billion pesos so far. It is only August. Hindi pa kasama dito ang bulto ng aanihin mula September hanggang December. Nasa bulsa na ng mga magsasaka natin last year yung 60 billion na yan, wala ngayon.

If we talk about one farmer who averages 4,000 kilos of palay per harvest, he loses 4,000 pesos for every peso drop in palay prices in one season.

Kaya ang safety net na nilagay natin sa batas, yung Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) na 10 billion pesos, kung 60 bilyon na ang kanilang nawala sa bulsa, lumalabas ay kulang na kulang.

Before rice tariffication in 2015, according to the family income and expenditure survey ng PSA, our farmers were already among the poorest, earning 100,000 pesos a year or 8,300 pesos a month or 277 pesos a day, way below the minimum wage. This is also below the poverty line level of 108,800 pesos a year, and way below the average family income of 267,000 pesos a year. Kahit noon, nagkakanda-utang-utang na ang mga magsasaka natin. Kahit noon, nagugutom na ang nagpapakain sa atin.

But with the influx of rice imports, mas lumala ang kalagayan nila. Hindi na lalo mabayaran ang utang, lalong nababaon sa utang. Lalong nagugutom.

Matatanda na rin ang mga rice farmers natin. Wala ng sumusunod sa yapak nila dahil sa hirap ng pagsasaka. Ika nga, a vow of poverty, kapag ikaw ay naging magsasaka.

Kaya naman, katulad ng sinabi ng isa pang dalubhasa, umalis na lang ang marami sa kanila sa pagsasaka.

Ito ang mabilis at brutal na mga epekto ng hindi tamang pag-implementa ng batas sa ating mga magsasaka.

Economist Noel De Dios said today about 200,000 rice farmers have stopped working on food production.

In a recent speech in Ilocos Sur, the President himself recognizes the security implications of neglecting and ignoring our starving farmers. Sabi niya nga, “Pag mahal, bilhin mo na, kaysa kung mag-NPA”.

At kapag pakonti ng pakonti na ang nagbubungkal ng lupa para magtanim ng bigas, ng palay, aasa tayo sa ibang bansa para sa pagkain natin. Hindi ito tama.

Ngayon pa lang, dahil sa drought sa Thailand, itinigil na muna nila ang pag-export ng bigas. Inuuna muna nila ang mga mamamayan nila. Kapag nangyari ito sa iba pang mga pinagkukunan natin ng bigas, paano na tayo?

Rice farmers all over the country have made the same conclusion: At this point, unrestricted rice imports without the immediate support for the rice farmers is killing them and the industry.

Kumusta naman ang ibang bahagi ng rice industry?

Namamatay na rin ang mga rice mills either kasi di pa nila ma-unload yung binili nila dati ng mga 19 to 20 pesos per kilo na palay o dahil di sila makapag-compete sa imported rice.

Yan din ang dahilan bakit di bumibili ang traders ng local palay. They would rather import para di malugi at ma-maximize nila ang kita.

In a Philippine Star article dated July 30 this year, Mr. Joji Co, president of the rice millers’ organization PhilConGrains, said 4,000 of the country’s 10,000 millers have stopped operating. This 400-billion-peso rice milling industry employs about 200,000 workers. Apektado rin ang mga manggagawa.

And because less rice is being milled, there is a shortage of darak or feeds, endangering the poultry and pork industry. Darak prices have more than doubled since last year due to the lack of supply. Considering that 70 percent of the cost of production of livestock is feeds, unless the shortage of darak is addressed, sisipa rin ang presyo ng baboy at manok.

In the same Philippine Star article, Elias Jose Inciong, president of the United Broilers Raisers Association, said prices of darak or rice bran, a key component for feeds for poultry and hogs have already doubled to 17 pesos per kilo from the average 8 pesos to 9 pesos per kilo. This is the first time that the price of darak which is used for animal feeds, a by-product of palay milling, is almost equal to the price of palay itself.

Sabi ni Inciong, dapat mas mura ang darak sa palay kasi by-product lang ang darak, pero hindi yan ang nangyayari ngayon.

This means that unrestricted rice importation also endangers small poultry and pig farms. At para sa mga mahilig sa fried chicken at inihaw na liempo, umasang mas mamahal ito kung hindi tayo kikilos.

Hindi pa natin naisasama ang epekto nito sa mga trabaho at maliliit na negosyo sa kanayunan. Ilan na lang kaya sa mga farm-hands, driver at pahinante ng delivery truck, nagbebenta sa karinderia at iba pa ang hindi kumikita o mas maliit ang kita sa ngayon?

We have to note the spillover effects of all of these in the rural economy, which will suffer from reduced purchasing power of rural consumers, including farmers.

In other words, malaking pagsubok sa produksyon ng pagkain ang bunga ng rice tariffication. May domino effect.

**

Pero magbalik-tanaw tayo. Bakit pinasa itong batas na ito?

Kung naaalala po natin? Ang haba ng mga pila para sa NFA rice bago matapos ang 2018. Alam natin, merong sapat na suplay ng commercial rice, pero hindi ng murang NFA rice, na nabibili sa palengke ng 27 pesos at hanggang 32 pesos kada kilo kumpara sa mas mahal na commercial rice na pumapalo ng mahigit 40 pero per kilo.

The NFA rice stocks were depleted. Why? At the very least, because of incompetence. At worst, traders in cahoots with officials at that time through rebagging and diversion of rice stocks.

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 percent in September to October 2018.

And when Malacañang certified the bill as urgent, they said the measure aims to:

“No. 1, address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country,

No. 2, prevent artificial rice shortage,

No. 3, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and

No. 4, curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.”

Ano ang nangyari?

On no. 1, address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, yes, rice became available everywhere, but with dire consequences for our rice farmers and millers and other stakeholders.

Ang balita natin, bumabaha ng bigas sa mga warehouse. Sabi ng isang magsasaka, “Nalulunod na kami sa palay at bigas.”

Ayon sa nakalap natin, mula sa mga ahensyang nakausap natin, simula January hanggang July ngayong taon, mahigit 2.355 milyong tonelada na ng bigas ang inangkat natin mula sa ibang bansa, mga bansang malaki at malakas ang tulong sa kanilang mga magsasaka.

Baha talaga ng bigas kasi the importation for the entire year of 2018 was almost two million tons at 1.966 million tons. 2018. E ngayong 2019, August pa lamang, lagpas kalahating taon pa lang ng 2019, 2.355 million tons na ang rice imports.

Ano’ng epekto nito sa mga magsasaka natin? Nababalewala ang pagod ng Pilipinong magsasaka. Ang nangyayari, binubuhay natin ang mga magsasaka ng ibang bansa na tumatanggap ng malaking tulong sa gobyerno nila, habang ginugutom at namamatay ang kabuhayan ng ating mga magsasaka.

On no. 2, prevent artificial rice shortage,there’s no artificial rice shortage now, but who manufactured the 2018 rice shortage? There would not have been any perceived shortage with simple proper management of NFA rice importation.

Masakit pa rito, the law failed in objective no. 3,

reduce the prices of rice in the market, which is also a promise to consumers.

Nakinabang ba tayong bumibili ng bigas sa pagbaha ng imported rice? Five months after the government allowed the rice imports, mahal pa rin ang bigas.

Let’s compare the latest PSA figures with those from a week before the law took effect on March 5. In March, the average retail prices of regular- and well-milled rice ranged from 40.22 pesos to 44.28 pesos per kilo while those on the second week of July ranged from 38.40 pesos to 42.86 pesos per kilo.

According to the PSA, retail rice prices inched down by 1.83 pesos (or 4 percent). So, bumaba lang ng mga dalawang piso ang presyo ng bigas sa merkado.

Naalala po natin sa mga debate para maipasa ang Rice Tarrifcation measure, pito hanggang sampung piso ang ibababa ang presyo ng bigas. Hindi ito nangyayari pa.

Doble ang pangakong napako. Si Ka Nena na magsasaka at maging si Ka Igme na namamalengke, hindi nakinabang sa pagdagsa ng imported na bigas.

Moreover, if we compare the effect of the law on the consumer and the farmer, halos walang pakinabang sa mamimili ito dahil 1.83 pesos lang ang ibinaba ng presyo ng bigas kumpara sa 2018 kung kelan naman nagkaroon ng rice mismanagement, samantalang ang lugi sa magsasaka ay 3.72 pesos kada kilo.

Kung ikukumpara natin sa presyo ng bigas noong 2017 at 2016, nung wala pa yung batas, di hamak na mas mababa pa ito na binibili natin ng 41.89 pesos (July 2017) at 41.68 pesos (July 2016). Kitang-kita naman ang diperensya dahil 44.69 pesos (July 2018) at 42.86 pesos (July 2019).

Sa objective no. 4 na curtail the prevalence of corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry, sa ngayon ang balita natin, mayroong technical rice smuggling sa pamamagitan ng undervaluation ng pinapasok na imported rice. There are two ways on how this is done. One, pinapababa ang actual value in terms of quality. Two, it is undervalued in terms of quantity.

Ibig sabihin nito, may sabwatan sa customs at sa mga trader. Kung ang totoong value ng bili nila ng rice sa Vietnam ay 375 dollars per ton, they will just declare it at 275 dollars per ton. I-declare nila as 25 percent broken, yun pala 5 percent broken lang.

Sa quantity naman, halimbawa ang isang crate or 20-foot container ang laman ay 500 sacks, ang idedeklara lang nila ay 400 sacks.

Mas gusto ng mga rice smugglers ito. Mas gusto nila ito dahil mas mahirap mahuli at may appearance na legit. Ang term na ginagamit nila ay “ang illegal nagiging legit”.

At alam natin na pag may rice smuggling, naiiipit pa rin ang mga magsasaka natin sa sobrang babang presyo ng bigas na pinapasok.

**

Maraming tanong tungkol sa batas at sa pagpapatupad nito.

Gusto nating ma-review ang batas, partikular ang sampung bilyong pisong Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.

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.

There appears to be a defect in the way RCEF was designed. First, the funds were channeled directly to small research agencies like PhilRice and PhilMech that do not have the manpower and network to implement large programs right away. So, inevitably, much time has to be spent in recruiting people, setting up satellite offices, buying equipment, etc. RCEF should have been channeled through the regular DA bureaucracy because many of the RCEF programs such as mechanization and seed distribution were already being done by DA before. What was just needed was to put in safeguards so that mistakes in the past would not be repeated. The other defect is that RCEF pre-allocated the use of funds, whereas the needs of farmers will invariably differ depending on the locality and over time. Dapat inuna yong plano bago yong budget sa RCEF.

We need to ask the DA for a timeline and a step-by-step process for the release of RCEF

We also want to ask: How do we make sure that the fund would reach the rice farmer at the time he needs it? Nakita na natin ang problema sa sistema nung ACEF noon na hindi naman nakinabang ang mga farmers. Kung kani-kanino na lamang napunta at nakurakot pa.

Pero nandito tayo sa isang emergency situation. Ang kailangang dapat bigyang-pansin agad ay ang kalagayan ng ating mga magsasaka lalo na ngayong lean months at lalo na kapag dumagsa na ang bulto ng aanihin mula sa darating na September hanggang December.

We propose eight measures to save our farmers and the rice industry ASAP, as in actions that can be done next month, the start of the harvest season.

No. 1 is the use of the agriculture special safeguards under Republic Act 8800 that can be triggered by a volume or price threshold of imports.

We have been informed by sources in the DA and the BOC, that we have already breached the trigger volume of over 2 million tons and over 10 billion pesos in tariffs.

If indeed the trigger volume has been breached, the law states that a special safeguard duty may be set at the level not exceeding one-third of the applicable duty. The DA Secretary, in coordination with the BOC, may do the same. Based on the 35 percent rate, an additional 11.67 percent tariff may be increased or may be imposed so that it will increase the tariff to 47 percent.

According to PhilRice’s Dr Flordeliza Bordey, the tariff rate that is computed that equals the prices of imported and domestic rice is a tariff of 70 percent. However, after 22 years and three postponements, we committed to only 35 percent. We owe it to the farmers to address this situation in a fair manner. WTO allows for cases like this through regular safeguards and agriculture special safeguards, both of which are also embodied in our own laws.

We must act swiftly, particularly on agriculture safeguards, which may be done within two months.

Harvest time is coming, and this is urgent. If we do this, the consequent maximum safeguard will be 47 percent (35 percent plus 12 percent safeguard), still lower than 70 percent, but enough to provide some protection for our farmers. And if traders follow their standard margins, the retail price today will not increase.

No. 2, we can also have recourse to the general safeguards and anti-dumping duties.

Relevant WTO provisions and Safeguard Measures Act of 2000 (Republic Act 8800) provide that general safeguard duties can be imposed if “a product is being imported into the country and in increased quantities, whether absolute or relative to the domestic production, as to be a substantial cause of serious injury or threat thereof to the domestic industry.”

WTO provisions and Anti-Dumping Act of 1999 (Republic Act 8752) say anti-dumping duty can be imposed if the export price of a commodity is less than its “normal value” in the exporting country and is causing or threatening to cause injury to a domestic industry.

It is a little harder to avail of these remedies, but the remedies are much larger and more effective that what the special safeguard duty can offer. The suggestion could be for the DA to start looking into these options.

No. 3, and this is critical, is emergency relief in the form of direct cash assistance from goverment. Government saw the need for cash assistance in the tariffication law albeit to be effected should there be an excess from the 10 billion collected annually. We must revisit this policy of waiting for the excess of 10 billion.

A 2015 PIDS study by Briones and Tolin recommends every farmer gets 19,000 pesos a year cash assistance.

No. 4, we can also use tariffs over 10 billion pesos for whatever our farmers need, but our proposal is for emergency cash assistance.

For this year, 2019, there is an unprogrammed 10 billion pesos for RCEF in the GAA. It is highly unlikely for PhilMech to absorb the 50% or the 5 billion pesos of the tariff this year. It also highly unlikely that the PhilRice, the 3 billion pesos for inbred rice seeds development, propagation, and promotion this year. Ibigay na natin ang 10 billion pesos na ito direkta sa magsasaka.

Dagdag dito, meron nang nakolektang taripa na sampung bilyong piso rin sa pagpasok ng halos 2.4 million tons of imported rice nitong 2019.

Given na 60 billion pesos ang nawala sa bulsa mismo ng ating mga magsasaka, unahin na natin sila pati na rin sa 10 billion pesos na nakolektang taripa.

We also propose to file a joint resolution to amend the law, Republic Act 11203, to allow the use of the tariff for immediate cash assistance to farmers.

No. 5, para naman sa ating mga consumers, the Price Act allows for DTI to issue suggested retail prices for the guidance of manufacturers. It also empowers government to go after price manipulators.

We must mobilize the DTI in order to put in place a monitoring of rice prices and perhaps impose a suggested retail price for rice.

No. 6, we ask the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate existing rice importers if they are taking advantage of their collective dominance in the market by engaging in exploitative acts. Kung mapatunayang dinadaya nila ang mga consumer at ang ating mga magsasaka, dapat silang managot.

No. 7, atasan ang Department of Agriculture at Agricultural Credit Policy Council na pabilisin ang pagpapautang nang walang interes sa mga rice farmers ng hanggang 25,000 pesos sa ilalim ng Survival and Recovery Loan (SURE) Assistance.

No. 8, provide emergency employment for distressed farmers through DSWD’s cash-for-work program.

**

Now, during the lean season, tag-gutom ang mga rice farmers. Ngayon pa lang bagsak na ang presyo. How much more pagdating ng bulto ng harvest at supply simula ngayong Setyembre kung kelan hamak na mas marami na nga ang suplay sa merkado? Pag malaki ang suplay, bagsak ang presyo.

Hindi kaya ng mga magsasaka malugi ng maraming beses. Mga dalawang beses lang sila malugi baka hindi na ho sila magtanim muli.

Finally, whenever there is a problem in the rice industry, government’s response and intervention is in the market. The same happened with the tariffication law. Dapat ang government intervention should be in the production. While we propose stop-gap measures, the long-term strategic interventions should be on the production side.

Dapat ang response ng gobyerno ay dun kung saan nag-uugat ang problema, sa production. Ang pinaka-basic na dahilan kung bakit doble sa Vietnam at Thailand ang cost of production natin ay dahil mahal ang abono, pestisidyo, gasolina dahil ito ay mga imported lahat. At yun nga, di rin totoo sa maraming lugar na libre irigasyon.

Hindi lamang irigasyon. Hindi lamang cost of production ang problema. Ang kaibahan ng Vietnam at Thailand sa Pilipinas, kinililala nila, nirerespeto nila, inaaruga at sinusuportagan nila ang mga magsasaka. Kinikilala nila ang kahalagan ng ating mga magsasaka. Sa atin, hindi pa tayo naroroon sa ganoong klaseng pagkilala.

Because the bigger issue is food security. How can we have food security when we are dependent on food imports?

Kung nalulugi ang farmers dahil sobrang baba ang bilihan ng palay, gaya ng nabanggit ko kanina, di na sila magtatanim. Pag di na sila magtatanim, bababa ang rice-sufficiency level natin. Dahil dito lalong lalaki ang ating demand for imported rice. With other countries importing as well, the Philippines is one of the largest importers of rice in the world, pag lumaki nang lumaki ang demand at ang supply sa world market ay ganun pa rin, tataas ang presyo ng bigas.

Pag nangyari ito, namatay na ang ating mga magsasaka, bumalik pa tayo uli sa mataas na presyo ng bigas.

Kaya para di tayo umabot sa sitwasyong “patay na ang kabayo”, ayusin natin ang apat na “damo” para mabuhay pa ang ating rice farmers at ang rice industry.

The impoverished situation of our farmers go back to the time of Spanish colonization to the time of the Hukbalahap to today. One failed promise after another has brought us here. Even the promise to prepare our rice farmers for an eventual free-trade regime under the WTO much still has to happened. Hindi ito panahon ng sisihan, panahon ito ng pagkilos para sagipin ang ating mga magsasaka.

I have to press on the urgency of the situation. The main harvest will start in September. If nothing is done, we are told, the fear is palay prices will plummet to 7 pesos per kilo. This can create social and political problems. We are proposing solutions because criticisms are not going to work and will not help our farmers.

Let me end with a reminder from my daughter Frankie when she was nine years old. She said, “We must treat our farmers like our parents because they’re the ones who feed us.” Our farmers, our parents, are starving and desperate. They need for us to act NOW.