SENATOR Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Tuesday urged government to act with urgency to address Filipino rice farmers’ woes as farmgate price of palay tumbled to as low as P12 a kilo, pushing the country’s mostly poor tillers deeper into poverty.
“Ang solusyon sa balitang bagsak presyo ng palay: Unahin ng pamahalaan ang pagbili ng bigas na tinanim ng ating mga magpapalay, at higpitan ang importasyon ng bigas lalo na ngayong tag-ani at sugpuin ang technical smuggling ng bigas,” said Pangilinan, former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization.
He said continued rice smuggling and skewed importation policy are slowly killing the Philippine rice industry and the livelihood of local farmers.
“Pag hindi na nagtanim ng palay ang ating mga magsasaka dahil wala na silang incentive ng sapat na kita, sa kalaunan, tayong lahat ang magdudusa. Hindi mapupunan ng imported rice ang pangangailangan ng buong bansa. Mahigit 80 percent ng ating kinokonsumo ay galing pa rin dito sa Pilipinas,” said Pangilinan.
Pangilinan also urged government agencies to intensify direct procurement of local produce from local farmers.
During the pandemic, local government units already bought P6 billion worth of local produce directly from local farmers.
“Kung lahat ng pangangailangan ng gobyerno sa bigas ay bibilhin sa local farmers, malaking ganansya ito sa kanila,” said Pangilinan.
The senator stressed that rice smuggling, which contributes to the worsening corruption in and out of government, should also be curbed.
“It’s lamentable thinking about the hardships of our farmers in tilling the soil and then getting a measly P12 for every kilo of palay, while at the other end of the spectrum are officials getting away with PhilHealth funds in a breeze,” he said.
“The P15 billion involved in the PhilHealth fraud could get us over 800,000 tons of rice (at P20 per kilo of palay) and if procured locally would give our Filipino farmers better reason to continue tilling and making their lands productive,” he added.
The senator also urged the Administration as well as the congressional oversight committee on the Rice Tariffication Law to sit down and find out if the dip in palay prices was an effect of the law that allowed the unbridled importation of rice.
Several lawmakers, including Pangilinan, have called for the law’s review due to its adverse effects on the local farmers.
He said there should be an efficient mechanism to halt the flow of imported rice when there are enough supplies such as during harvest seasons.