LOWERING rice tariffs now might break the back of the Filipino rice farmers and the Philippine rice industry, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan said Monday.
“Patay na naman ang rice farmers natin. Dapa na ang ating mga magpapalay dahil sa tuloy-tuloy na pasok ng imported rice. Sumubsob pa dahil sa pandemya. Ngayon, parang ililibing na sila sa hirap sa ulat na pagbaba ng taripa,” Pangilinan said when asked for his reaction on the reported Executive Order 135 which lowers rice tariffs from 50 and 40 percent for in-quota and out-quota respectively to 35 percent for imports coming from so-called Most Favored Nations, particularly, India, Pakistan, and China.
At the same time, the former head of the National Food Authority Council pointed out that EO 135 has not been published and he has not seen a copy of the executive order.
“Bakit magbababa ng taripa kung ang economic managers mismo nagsabi sa pagdinig natin sa presyo ng baboy na steady ang supply ng bigas?” Pangilinan asked, adding that Filipino rice farmers have been calling him up asking for his intervention on this executive action.
“Parang sa usapin ng pagbaba ng pork import tariffs sa ating mga magbababoy, hindi ba ulit dumaan sa konsultasyon ang polisiyang ito sa mga apektadong magsasaka?” he added.
Pangilinan, who as food security secretary was able to lower rice inflation from 14.4 percent in 2014 to 0.10 percent in July 2015, also stressed that rice inflation has been low for the past seven months: October 2020, -0.5 percent; November 2020, -0.1 percent; December 2020, 0.1 percent; January 2021, 0.1 percent; February 2021, 0.5 percent; March 2021, 0.9 percent; and April 2021, -0.3 percent.
“Double whammy sa ating mga magpapalay. Mababawasan na ang RCEF (Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund) para sa kanila, dadami pa ang kalaban nila sa merkado. Pahirap talaga,” the senator said.
Pangilinan, who was also able to save the government 6 billion pesos in public funds when he made the rice importation process transparent, accountable, and competitive during his stint as Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, pointed to a bigger problem with the continuing liberalization of food and agricultural products.
“Apektado ng pagbaha ng mga imported na pagkain ang ating kakayanang mag-produce ng sarili nating pagkain. Our rice sufficiency level dropped from 95 percent in 2017 to 79.8 percent in 2019. We don’t have the figures for 2020 yet,” he said.
“Pag bumaba ang kita o hindi na kumikita ang magpapalay, di na siya magtatanim. Pag di na siya nagtanim, lalo tayong nakaasa sa imported. Pag ganyan, hawak na ng ibang bansa ang pagkain natin,” Pangilinan explained.
On questions about the powers of the President to lower tariffs two days before Congress resumes session, the senator said he is looking into filing a joint resolution to withdraw EO 135.