Give farmers P20 billion emergency cash assistance from rice tariffication law now — Pangilinan

MANILA — Filipino farmers hurting from the deluge of imported rice should immediately get P20 billion emergency cash assistance from collected tariffs and unprogrammed funds under the Rice Tariffication Act, Senator Francis Pangilinan said Tuesday.

He said the immediate release of cash relief assistance is necessary for our rice farmers’ survival as they lost an estimated P60 billion due to falling palay prices brought about by unrestrained rice imports allowed by the rice tariffication law.

“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,” he said.

In a privilege speech at the Senate on Tuesday, August 13, Pangilinan proposed several measures that needed to be done “to save our farmers and the rice industry.”

Signed into law February this year, Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law liberalized rice importation with tariff of 35 percent.

The law sets aside a P10-billion subsidy that will be given to the farm sector yearly for purchase of farm equipment; research and seed input; credit; and, trainings and seminars.

This amount is unprogrammed in the 2019 budget, and Pangilinan suggests that this P10 billion be given directly to rice farmers together with the P10-billion tariff already collected by the government, making available a total of P20 billion for immediate cash assistance to rice farmers.

Pangilinan’s six other proposed action points to help our farmers are:

1. use of the agriculture special safeguards under Republic Act 8800 triggered by a volume or price threshold of imports.

2. a recourse to the general safeguards and anti-dumping duties.

3. for the DA to put in place monitoring and possible imposition of a suggested retail price for rice.

4. for the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate existing rice importers for exploitative acts.

5. to hasten the Survival and Recovery Loan (SURE) Assistance of P25,000 loan with zero interest for farmers.

6. for DSWD’s cash-for-work program to provide emergency employment for distressed farmers.

Farmers hurting

The former presidential adviser on food and agriculture said farmers he talked to complained of the plunge in prices of palay (unhusked rice). Official data support their claim.

On July 2019, farm-gate prices of palay (unhusked rice) was at either P17.78 per kilo (according to the Philippine Statistics Authority) or P14.10 (in 11 provinces, said the Department of Agriculture). These are between 17% (using the PSA data) and 34% (DA data) lower than 2018 prices.

According to Pangilinan, the country produces about 20 million metric tons of rice every year. This means that for every one peso drop in rice prices per kilo, farmers lose P20 billion.

“Nasa bulsa na ng mga magsasaka natin last year yung 60 billion na yan, wala ngayon,” he said.

Before rice tariffication, Pangilinan said a farmer earns only P100,000 a year, below the poverty line of P108,000, and way below the average family income of P267,000 a year.

“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,” he said.

No lower retail rice prices and rampant smuggling

The senator said the promised objective of the law to significantly lower retail rice prices was not met. He said retail rice prices dropped only P1 to P2.

“Naalala po natin sa mga debate para maipasa ang rice tarrification measure, pito hanggang sampung piso ang ibababa ang presyo ng bigas. Hindi ito nangyayari pa,” Pangilinan said.

“Doble ang pangakong napako,” he added.

Pangilinan said that rice flooded warehouses. From January to July this year, more than 2.355 million tons of rice were imported. This was more than the amount of imports of 1.966 million tons in the country for the entire 2018.

He also revealed that rice smuggling remains rampant through undervaluation.

“One, pinapababa ang actual value in terms of quality. Two, it is undervalued in terms of quantity,” he said.

“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,” he said.

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

Review the law

Pangilinan urged Congress to review the use of P10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund.

“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,” he said.

“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,” Pangilinan said.

“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,” he said.

Ending his speech with a quote from daughter Frankie to give as much honor to farmers as parents who feed us, the senator said that with “the sacrifice that they have done, the generations that fed us, it is unjust for [our rice farmers] to go hungry.”