MANILA — After public consultations in Central Luzon and Cebu, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Sunday echoed rice farmers’ needs to survive the impact of plunging palay prices: more active palay purchase by the National Food Authority, increased tariffs, restrictions to importations, and post-harvest facilities like warehouses and dryers.
“Ang gusto ng mga magsasaka ay mas maging masigasig ang pagbili halimbawa ng NFA ng palay. Dapat mapaabot sa mas marami nating mga magsasaka. Humihingi rin ng tulong sa mga dryer, ng post-harvest facility,” said Pangilinan, vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.
“Dahil pag walang dryer, hindi nila mabenta nang mas mataas na presyo dahil kung basa ang palay, mas mura yan. So malaki rin ang nawawala sa kanila dahil sa kakulangan ng facilities (Without dryers, they are not able to sell their wet palay at higher prices. They lose a lot due to lack of facilities),” Pangilinan said.
“Humihingi sila ng palugit sa pagbayad ng kanilang utang — kung maaaring deferment habang hirap dahil nga mababa ang presyo ng palay. So itong mga ito, ipapaabot natin mismo sa isang pagpupulong ni Secretary Dar (They are also asking for deferment in their loans while the prices of palay are low. All these, we will personally relay to Secretary William Dar in a meeting),” he added.
The farmers gave their suggestions during a public consultation on the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the Sagip Saka Act of 2019 in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga last Friday.
The local economy in Central Luzon, dubbed the rice granary of the Philippines, has been badly hit by the dampening effects of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Billions of pesos are being taken away from Filipino farmers as the influx of imported rice caused the selling price of local rice produce to drop to as low as 7 pesos per kilo, or 5 pesos lower than the production cost of 12 pesos per kilo, Pangilinan said.
Earlier, the senator delivered a privilege speech on the plight of rice farmers and filed a joint resolution to fast-track several measures on how to curb the debilitating effects of the law.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 aims to release 13 billion pesos from the fund balance of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under the unprogrammed appropriations of the 2019 national budget and the collected tariffs from rice importation as direct emergency cash assistance for rice farmers.
“Ang hinihiling din nila ay yung cash assistance. Actual assistance na cash dahil malaki ang nawala sa kanila sa taong ito. Mga kulang-kulang 60 to 70 billion pesos ang halaga ng palay last year na nawala this year dahil sa bagsak ng presyo,” Pangilinan said.
Liberal Party lawmakers in the House of Representatives have also filed a counterpart measure.
The Department of Agriculture finished its Sagip Saka consultations in the cities of Cebu, General Santos, Cagayan de Oro, and San Fernando in Pampanga last week. Pangilinan attended the consultations in Cebu and San Fernando cities.
Sagip Saka Act of 2019 aims to link farmers directly to the market of national government agencies, local government units, and big companies like fast-food chains so they are able to see their produce directly, without the intervention of a trader of a middleman.
“Sagip Saka is a template to making farming successful. Hopefully by December we can roll out Sagip Saka and get a number of local and national government agencies on board to be able to implement the law. Sagip Saka is a culmination of my experience as a farmer and policymaker,” Pangilinan said.