Have rice, will eat
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - September 17, 2019 - 12:00am

In just a few weeks, 2.6M small holder farmers from the mountains to the lowlands will start harvesting their palay. 

But where is the market? 

That is the $64,000 question. 

This is because the palay traders have suddenly disappeared. They have become rice importers and are now making a windfall profit. 

So why bother buying palay and milling it, when you can already import cheap rice (even as they are not sold cheaper as called for by the law of supply and demand).

All that is said tongue in cheek.

But as a rice eater – too much, to the consternation of our family doctor, Dr. Anthony Marquez, deputy director at the Pasig General Hospital – I am, as you are, too, concerned about what’s happening to our daily staple, beginning with its unhusked grain, palay.

While waiting to be confirmed by the Commission on Appointment, newly appointed Agriculture Secretary William Dar has started going around the country to encourage the governors to do business, buying palay and selling rice themselves to replace the greedy trader millers that have turned rice importers. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar, author of the Rice Tariffication Law has to take the cudgels for Secretary Dar.

The senator is single-handedly meeting the farmers claiming they are negatively affected by the law. They point to the law’s giving rice dealers the  freedom to import rice notwithstanding the standing crops. 

But the tariffication law is actually intended to help the farmers. The waiting for the good days is temporary. They have the assurance of the government having the funds to modernize their systems of planting and harvesting with the use of machines that free them from the backbreaking chore of planting and harvesting rice by hand. They also see the potential of consolidating their farms to be able to produce in bulk through the economies of scale, and will now be allowed to export even as the traders will continue to import cheap rice. They are told that with the management of their farms by professionals coming from the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), they can produce more and free themselves from poverty as advocated by Commissioner Vicente Domingo of the PRC Board of Agriculture and a farmer himself. 

Dar’s confirmation by Congress with Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s support should and must be done very soon, otherwise, the rice importers will continue to have a heyday as the farmers get discouraged planting palay, thereby creating an artificial shortage that will again justify more importation of rice. It’s not farfetched they will spike the price of imported rice and trigger a worse situation when and if the farmers go on strike and throw away their ploughs and implements.

For the time being, a lawmaker is suggesting the application of “tokhang,” the method used by President Duerte in his war against illegal drugs. Representative Joey Salceda (Albay 2nd District) told reporters he submitted a five-page “aide-memoire” to President Duterte and Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano containing measures the national government can undertake to manage the fallout. He urged the Department of Justice and the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate possible economic sabotage, and the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture to intensify monitoring activities of price manipulations. 

Governments, he said, must carry out “resolute expressions of its firmness in combating rice cartels. Under “tokhang,” the government can take a look at the traders’ warehouses, import records and deliveries.

He said the National Food Authority should be allowed to borrow funds to shore up its current buying operations from P7.5 billion to P22.5 billion.

He rejected the proposal to repeal or amend the rice tariffication law because it remains a “good law.” 

*      *      *

Last Friday, Sept. 20, when Mina Gabor turned 80, she was all cheers and full of gratitude for the party dubbed “A Celebration of Life” given in her honor by friends and employees, for her making an impact on their lives. All the female guests were crowned with beautiful paper flowers, and the males, pinned with a white flower on their collars. Mina herself made her entrance in an enchantingly bright-colored gown and a crown of flowers. What a night it turned out. Guests came from high places, topped by former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, government and private sector executives, doctors and lawyers and money-makers.

Fr. Froilan Rento Briones, SSS, celebrated holy mass. Media favorite father Jerry Orbos delivered the birthday prayer and blessing, a Banda Kawayan provided rhapsodic music, Philippine Trade Training Center executive director Nestor Palabyab gave the invocation, and Asst. Secretary Gosvi Gastos welcomed the guests. 

Then followed celebrities’ singing to hearty rounds of applause. Lea Salonga did “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” Joe Mari Chan, his Christmas composition, and responding to the audience’s clamor, “Beautiful Girl.” Then there appeared the baritone Badon, who sang the powerful “Granada” (my favoritest, as they say).

The praises for Mina’s performance as founder of CITEM, secretary of Tourism, now into farm tours and president of a school of tourism were spoken by her nephew Lorenzo Manalang,  world class culinary specialist Glenda Barreto (her restaurant, Via Mare, catered the evening’s menu, consisting of prettily innovative dishes), and former Cory Aquino spokesperson Deedee Siytangco (the best of the government’s press secretaries) and former Social Welfare Secretary Cora de Leon.

Toward the end, celebrant with tears in her eyes, thanked the people who made her life a great success. Her entrepreneurial career began, she said, when as a young girl, she sold candies and chewing gum at the gate of the family house. Mina was, as always, smiling – a friend to all who came her way.

*      *      *

Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

FARMERS RICE
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