President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the Department of Agriculture (DA) to suspend rice importation during the harvest season of Filipino farmers and to buy local palay.
The President did not say when the suspension would take effect and even its duration, but he assured to issue the order for the wailing local farmers.
Due to rice tariffication law, the local farmers have been selling their palay in such low prices since the quantitative import restrictions has lifted.
Therefore, during the immediate press conference on Tuesday night, Duterte said he would suspend the importation of rice because it is harvest time, after he was asked he would actually make the order.
Moreover, he would ask Congress to allocate funds to support and buy local palay, even if causes the government billions of pesos.
No reclaiming of farmers’ severe losses
Duterte’s suspension of rice importation would not be able to regain the severe losses that the local farmers had, according to a national farmers’ group.
Their total losses were at P140 billion in 2019, which is equivalent to P30,000 per hectare, said the Kilusan Para sa Tunay na Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (Katarungan).
“The implementation of RA (Republic Act) No. 11203 has dealt a severe blow to poor Filipino farmers,” Jansept Geronimo, Katarungan spokesperson, said in a phone interview.
Some farmers have reportedly stopped sending their children to school, and were forced to borrow from loan sharks to provide for their basic needs.
As a result, Katarungan held a “national day of protest” against the implementation of rice tariffication law in different regions of the country.
Geronimo with more than 70 farmers from Quezon province blocked the section of Maharlika Highway in Barangay Concepcion Uno on Wednesday morning.
So, Duterte said the government was ready to allot P3 billion for the farmers’ losses to help them live.
However, according to him, as soon as the harvest season ended, the rice imports would continue, because the country’s own supply of rice would not be enough for 110 millions Filipinos eating rice.
Pros and cons of rice tariffication law
Meanwhile, Duterte added that the law was able to help against the corruption of those who attended the issuance of National Food Authority’s (NFA) import permits to certain groups.
Since the signing of the law in February, the individuals and businesses, which imported additional rice supplies in the country, were required to pay tariffs that funded mass irrigation, warehousing, and rice research to guide farmers.
The law was able to boost rice supply in the country despite its increasing prices in 2018.
On the other hand, local farmers were negatively affected by it.
“So you choose if you are in my position: the people will go hungry or the farmers will get angry?” Duterte asked the Filipino nation.
Duterte apologized to farmers the other day, but he had said that he cannot lift the rice tariffication law as he does not want a food crisis to happen again.
Also, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia believed that the liberalized rice trade was beneficial to the poor, because of the lower prices of rice.
That is why the advocacy groups only asked for the imposition of special safeguard (SSG) duties for the limitation of the volume of imported rice.
The Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), Federation of Free Farmers and Alyansa Agrikultura said imposing the duties lessen the buying of imported rice.
Moreover, they said that the SSG will be the only “legal” means to deal with the glut, referencing the 2.9 metric tons of imported rice that Sen. Cynthia Villiar described to be beyond of what the country has needed.
“The benefit of SSG … is it automatically puts a cap on imports as the price of imported rice becomes at parity with local prices, making the Filipino farmers’ rice competitive,” PCAFI said in a statement, suggesting to make rice imports more expensive—make tariff to be 70% on top of the 35% of the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.