'Duterte apology of no help to farmers hit by low palay prices'
President Rodrigo Duterte on Saturday night 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.
The STAR/Andy G. Zapata Jr., file
'Duterte apology of no help to farmers hit by low palay prices'
Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - November 18, 2019 - 6:48pm

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's apology to farmers affected by low palay prices does not address the losses they have already suffered. groups said.

The drop in prices have been attributed to the removal of caps on rice imports. Under the Rice Tariffication Law, the government instead taxes imported rice, with the revenues from that supposed to go to farmers and to modernizing the rice farming sector.

"His apology will not reparate the tens of billions of pesos of losses of rice farmers," Amihan chairperson Zenaida Soriano said in a press statement. “Duterte’s handiwork directly tossed many rice farmers into bankruptcy when the influx of imported rice triggered low farm gate prices.”

Duterte, in an ABS-CBN News interview on Saturday apologized to rice farmers for the cripplingly low rice prices that hit as a result of his signing of the rice tariffication law.

“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,” he said. “If I can’t help you, then I have no business being here, I have [a] goal, I will immediately do something about it.

However, Malacañang was quick to clarify that the government will not bar rice imports and that no orders to that effect have been issued.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a statement that “[a]s of this time there is no order to stop rice importation given to Secretary [William] Dar of the Department of Agriculture per the latter.” 

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III also on Monday reportedly said the government will not suspend the Rice Tariffication Law. He said the Cabinet recently agreed to give farmers unconditional cash transfers to ease their woes.

In a separate statement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chariperson Rafael Mariano said: “President Duterte’s feigned apology on the effects of rice liberalization is worthless [after Malacañang] even fortified its stance to uphold rice importation amid broad calls against it.”

'Abandonment of the people' 

Republic Act 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Act, lifts import restrictions on rice and replaces them with imposed import tariffs. This means that anyone can import rice as long as they pay the necessary 35-40% in import taxes, collections of which are meant for mass irrigation, warehousing, and research.  

But the production cost of palay in the Philippines stands at P12.42 per kilogram, weighed against the P15.49 per kilogram average farmgate price of palay as of the third week of October as per Philippine Statistics Authority data. 

In an August press statement, Sen. Francis Pangilinan also estimated that the plummeting prices of rice led to a loss of at least P60 billion for farmers.

“Duterte attempts to deceive the rice farmers by packaging his abandonment with an apology, as if it would reparate them from the tens of billions of pesos of losses incurred by his handiwork law,” said former Rep. Ariel Casilao (Anakpawis party-list), who opposed the law and primarily authored the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) bill during the 17th Congress.

“The issue of rice liberalization could lead to Duterte’s political isolation from broad social sectors and the people. Only big rice importers and oligarchs are siding with Duterte on this matter,” Mariano, a former Agrarian Reform secretary in the Duterte Cabinet, said.

According to a US Department of Agriculture-Foreign Agricultural Service report on November 10, the Philippines is now the top rice importer in the world, even beating out China and its population of 1.4 billion. In comparison, the Philippines has a total population of over 110 million.

In response, rice watchdog Bantay Bigas along with Amihan submitted 50,000 signatures to Rep. Wilfrido Enverga (Quezon), chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, calling for the immediate repeal of the RTL.

But Duterte has made it clear he has no intention of doing so. “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,” he said.

Faulty implementation?

"I think there’s one thing lacking there: You also have to make sure that you support people who need it," Ateneo Economics professor Ser Peña-Reyes, PhD told Philstar.com on November 11. 

Although he maintained that a reversal would be "misguided," Peña-Reyes pointed to the revenues supposedly being raised by the RTL as one area that needed to be executed more efficiently. "Ang nangyayari lang ay nakokolekta iyong tariff. What about giving the subsidy to those who actually need it?" he said. "That needs to be implemented more forcefully."

For Soriano, however, being afforded these funds would still not be enough because gross losses would ultimately lead to "indebtedness, displacement from land, and losses of sources of income of farm workers and other workers."

Pangilinan, too, welcomed the cash assistance in his statement but asserted that a one-time loan would do nothing to ease the blow for farmers who needed urgent assistance. 

“Profit-oriented trading in food is clearly not charity [because] the more desperate the consumers, the [more] the private sectors could raise their prices that guarantee huge profits," Soriano explained.  

"Any downtrends of prices at this period are predatory and speculative, but ultimately, it will be at [an] unaffordable level for the poor." — with reports from Alexis Romero

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