DA execs: P20/kilo rice not achievable in 2 years

Danessa Rivera, Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
DA execs: P20/kilo rice not achievable in 2 years
A vendor at Commonwealth Public Market in Quezon City sells rice for P38 per kilo on August 22, 2023.
STAR / Sheila Crisostomo

MANILA, Philippines — Officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA) admitted yesterday that the campaign promise of President Marcos to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo is unlikely to see fulfillment in the next two years.

“Next two years? Baka mahirap po (I think it will be difficult),” DA Undersecretary for policy, planning and regulations Mercedita Sombilla said in response to questioning from Kabataan party-list Rep. Raoul Manuel during yesterday’s hearing of the House committee on appropriations on the DA’s proposed budget of P167.5 billion in 2024.

Marcos, concurrently DA chief, did not attend the hearing.

For his part, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman asked the officials about the President’s assurance of rice security in the country by 2030.

“At what amount will the price of rice stabilize, because according to the President, it will stabilize. So at what amount?” he said.

DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban responded they have “not figured that out” but underscored that “in all probabilities, it is possible” to achieve.

“We are looking at solutions to the problems but not at this point in time,” he added.

Panganiban conceded there were “instances in the past that have happened” and they “affected the achievement of food security in the country.”

He cited the incomplete or inadequate irrigation projects as well as the conversion of rice lands into subdivisions.

The official added that facilities such as market roads and equipment like harvesters and threshers “and everything are not in full bloom.”

“So, these problems affected the achievement of food security in the country. And on that basis, we are not in a position to say that we shall be self sufficient by the end of the Marcos administration,” he said.

Panganiban added that prices range from P38 to P50 or P60 and on that basis, the DA is still looking for solutions to these problems.

Lagman expressed dismay, saying it was a campaign promise that “could have made the President win” in the elections.

“It is bad enough that the current price of rice is way above the campaign promise of P20 per kilo but it is just as bad that the department has no estimate at what price it will stabilize,” he added.

Also during the hearing, Manila Rep. Benny Abante asked DA Undersecretary for Rice Industry Development Leocadio Sebastian – identified by Panganiban as the department’s “rice expert” – if he believes there is a rice cartel.

Sebastian responded:  “I don’t believe, Mr. Chair, there is a rice cartel.”

Abante retorted that even the Philippine Competition Commission believes there is a rice cartel in the country.

“In the city of Manila, I believe there is a rice cartel. This is my first time that you answered there is no rice cartel,” Abante added.

Basilan Rep. Mujiv Hataman questioned the DA officials if P20 per kilo rice price is possible once the country achieves the target of 97.5 percent rice self-sufficiency in five years under the Masagana Rice Industry Development Program.

“It depends on the market, how it will play. If we are able to, for example Mr. Chair, improve our value chain and reduce the costing like the post-harvest cost…then we can also reduce the cost of production … not P20 but at least we can maintain a lower price that is affordable. I think our objective should be affordability for our population,” Sebastian said.

When told by Hataman that affordability is “very relative,” the DA official said attaining P20 per kilo might be a little challenging.

Sebastian further said the P20 per kilo rice is an “aspiration” of the DA.

“As the President has also rightly expressed, Mr. Chair, we would like to make sure our farmers will benefit from any agricultural development that we will have. We’re to make sure they have a good income. That is our main objective,” he said.

When further pressed if the President’s campaign promise is achievable, Sebastian said: “I cannot answer that, Mr. Chair.”

An exasperated Hataman said if the P20 per kilo target cannot be achieved by 2028 or by the end of the Marcos administration, it should at least be factored into the rice roadmap.

Isabela Rep. Antonio Albano said the DA needs to make a plan to make sure the price of rice goes down.

Sebastian, however, said reducing rice prices is included in the roadmap but not P20 per kilo.

Based on DA’s monitoring in Metro Manila markets as of yesterday, retail prices of local commercial rice range between P54-62 per kilo for special, P47-60 per kilo for premium, P46-57 per kilo for well-milled and P41-55 per kilo for regular milled.

On the other hand, prices of imported commercial rice were at P52-65 per kilo for special, P47-57 per kilo for premium, P46 per kilo for well milled.

The DA monitoring stated that imported regular milled rice was not available in markets.

Sombillo presented during the hearing the DA’s requested budget of P396.04 billion in 2024, representing an increase of about 126 percent from the P167.5 billion recommended by the Department of Budget and Management.

The “salient items” in the proposed allocation are P9.80 billion for hybrid seed assistance, fertilizer assistance at P9.55 billion, P2.750 billion for Agricultural Credit Program, P2.49 billion for Yellow Corn Product Enhancement Program for Seeds and Fertilizers and P1 billion for quick response fund. — Ramon Efren Lazaro

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