Government’s P5,000 assistance consuelo de bobo — farmers’ group

Louise Maureen Simeon (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s offer of a one-time P5,000 cash assistance to the country’s farmers is of little worth, as the rice industry’s liberalization has cost them way more than that, a farmers’ group said over the weekend.

The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), one of the largest non-government organizations of rural workers in the Philippines, slammed the recent decision of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to no longer impose safeguard measures, at least for the meantime, even as farmers continue to suffer from low palay prices.

“The P5,000 is only about one-fifth of what farmers have lost this season due to the drop in palay prices, so it’s just like consuelo de bobo for them,” FFF national manager Raul Montemayor told The STAR.

“I foresee problems in how they identify beneficiaries, because not all rice farmers can be accommodated, and the negative reaction from farmers who also suffered but are not qualified to receive the money just because they have larger landholdings,” he added.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar last week said the Cabinet has decided to not tap safeguard measures amid alleged inflationary effects.

Instead, the government will give a one-time cash assistance of P5,000 each to farmers tilling one hectare and below.

“It does not solve the problem and does not address the root cause as to why palay prices are dropping, which is the surge of cheap imported rice, and for which the only legal way to arrest the surge is to impose safeguard duties,” Montemayor said.

The group has also expressed disappointment with Dar for not deciding on his own, allowing other members of the Cabinet to decide what will happen to local farmers.

“He opted to toss the problem to the EDC (Economic Development Cluster) and then the Cabinet, without taking a stand as DA secretary, which the law requires him to do,” Montemayor said.

“It appears now that DA policy is being controlled by the economic managers, and he (Dar) has no choice but to follow them,” he added.

At the very least, the group urged Dar to divulge the results of their investigation on the need for safeguard duties, and not just say they terminated the investigation without any result.

FFF also disputed the government’s claim that imposing safeguard duties may be inflationary given that large volumes of rice have already been imported at cheap prices and at the regular tariff.

“The government just has to find a way to get this rice out into the market at a reasonable price. It is unfair that farmers will continue suffering without the safeguards just because government cannot control how imports are sold in the market,” Montemayor said.

The planned cash assistance will be taken from the excess tariffs being collected under the Rice Tariffication Law. The government has so far collected P11 billion since the law took effect in March.

The Bureau of Customs earlier said revenues from the opening up of the rice market will likely yield P15 billion this year, exceeding the P10 billion target under the law.

The tariff collection from rice importation will be allocated for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which will be used for programs to boost the productivity and global competitiveness of local farmers.

The excess from the P10 billion will likewise be for the farmers, especially those affected by the drop in palay prices.

The DA recently terminated the study on imposing safeguard measures, pending consultation with the country’s economic team.

Under the rules of the World Trade Organization and the Safeguard Measures Act, the government can impose general safeguard duties on imports of rice on top of regular tariffs if imports are found to have caused, or threaten to cause, injury to rice farmers.

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