President Rodrigo Duterte said he is ready to meet with farmers’ groups to address their concerns, which include the low prices of palay or rice paddy, the unfinished irrigation projects and faulty equipment given to beneficiaries of the government’s mechanization program.
Andy G. Zapata Jr./File
Duterte apologizes to rice farmers over low prices
Delon Porcalla, Alexis Romero (The Philippine Star) - November 18, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte has apologized to farmers for the government’s shortcomings to the agriculture sector, but he is not inclined to seek the repeal of the rice tariffication law, which is said to be hurting the livelihood of farm workers.

Duterte said he is ready to meet with farmers’ groups to address their concerns, which include the low prices of palay or rice paddy, the unfinished irrigation projects and faulty equipment given to beneficiaries of the government’s mechanization program.

“What I am saying to our people is that, do not despair, we can always correct a wrong. I apologize to you if the result you wanted to get during the early days of my administration has been well delayed or not good, not to your expectations. If I can’t help you, then I have no business being here, I have the goal, I will immediately do something about it,” Duterte told ABS-CBN News in an interview aired Saturday night.

“I will ask my office to arrange for a meeting with them, if it’s possible to get them to one place so I will listen and I will resolve the problem,” he added.

The rice tariffication law, which was signed into law last February, replaced quantitative rice import restrictions with tariffs and allowed private firms to import rice once they secure the necessary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry.

Importers are required to pay 35-percent tariff for shipments from Southeast Asian countries.

The law also formed a P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to protect the livelihood of local farmers.

Some farmer groups have called for the repeal of the law, saying the influx of cheap imported rice has forced farmers to sell their produce to traders at lower prices.

Duterte, however, believes repealing the law could result in a “food crisis.”

“I am not about ready to do that, I do not want to have a food crisis again, because we have a problem, it is just a serious problem, but if you do not have food, for the people, that is different,” the President said.

“You have more serious challenge there, and maybe hard to resolve until there is really food on the table. Remember, we cannot be rice sufficient. It’s impossible (because of) climate change, then you have the people growth, and the mismanaged problems of the government. Dealing with it is really solving the problem,” he added.

The Chief Executive, nevertheless, said he was ready to address the concerns about low palay prices.

“Well I don’t have something about it, make it work, if there’s a fracture somewhere there, fix it so that we can proceed with what we have to do next time. Everybody is listening, do your thing right.  And I will see to it that we can strike a happy balance between rice importation and the production of rice by the farmers,” he said.

Duterte added that he would also ask National Irrigation Authority (NIA) chief Ricardo Visaya to explain the delays in the implementation of irrigation projects.

The Commission on Audit recently scored the NIA over the delays of projects worth more than P20 billion. The audit agency said a total of 229 irrigation projects remain incomplete.

The President also said he would ask former agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol to shed light on the faulty equipment given to farmer beneficiaries.

“I will personally inspect the projects and the machines why they are not working or cannot be used. If needed, we will replace them. We are not faultfinders. But to all those who pass there...I just want to correct it, maybe, along the way, I might be able to find out what’s the truth and I will correct it,” Duterte said.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson has asked agriculture secretary William Dar to file charges against officials, suppliers and contractors behind the distribution of substandard and faulty equipment to farmers in Eastern Visayas.

‘Special emergency fund’

Farmers who were hit the hardest by the rice tariffication law should have a “special emergency fund” to be sourced from the collection in excess of the P10-billion rice subsidy, according to a key leader of the House of Representatives.

“There is an urgent need to immediately set up the Rice Farmer Financial Assistance as a supplementary and transitional safety measure to serve as compensation to rice farmers,” House Deputy Speaker L-Ray Villafuerte said.

The Camarines Sur congressman said he would file this week a joint resolution to provide this authorization for an immediate special fund to enable the Department of Agriculture to distribute direct cash transfers to small farmers to help them cope with low palay prices.

“Rather than wait for excess amount to be appropriated under the national budget for the following year when this was collected, Congress should act now and do its share in helping our distraught rice farmers survive this temporary drop in palay farm gate prices,” he said.

The target market are those farmers who are farming two hectares of agricultural land and below, for the reduction or loss of their farm income arising from the tariffication of the quantitative import restrictions on rice.

Under Section 13 of the rice tariffication law, the excess of P10 billion for RCEF shall be earmarked by Congress for rice farmer financial assistance, titling of agricultural rice land, expanded crop insurance program on rice and crop diversification program, “and included in the General Appropriations Act of the following year.”

Farm gate prices of dry palay dropped by as much as P10 per kilo in several rice-producing areas following the implementation of rice tariffication law earlier this year.

This, on the other hand, resulted in “huge income losses for rice farmers and the industry, which is now estimated to around P50 billion at current prices.”

Villafuerte noted that from the time the law took effect in March up to end-October this year, Bureau of Customs collections from rice import tariffs  have  already reached P11.4 billion, or an excess of P1.4 billion in revenues supposedly earmarked for RCEF.

Meanwhile, Dasmariñas City Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. is optimistic that the government’s target gross domestic product growth of 6.5 percent to seven percent in the fourth quarter of the year is now within reach after registering a 6.2-percent growth in the third quarter.                – With Delon Porcalla

“We expect a better economy by end of the year as Christmas time approaches because the people will have more money to spend, arising from the 13th month pay, etc., and there will also be higher cash remittances from our overseas Filipino workers during the holiday period,” Barzaga said.

“We see a bullish trend also because of the good investment climate under the Duterte administration, especially with the country’s inclusion in the top 50 percent of nations in the world that are conducive for business investments,” the Cavite congressman added.

House Deputy Speaker Mikee Romero of party-list group 1-Pacman said that aside from cash subsidy, rice farmers “will also receive other forms of assistance, like free seeds and farm implements to reduce their production cost and increase their yield.”

Two months ago, agriculture officials led by Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan told House members that the Department of Budget and Management had released a total of P5 billion out of the RCEF.

Quoting these officials, he said P2 billion was given to the Philippine Rice Research Institute and another P2 billion to the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization for the production or procurement of seeds and farm machineries.

RODRIGO ROA DUTERTE
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