Rice tariffication: From rice fields to malls
OFF TANGENT - Aven Piramide (Philstar.com) - November 14, 2019 - 12:00am

Two of the achievements of man that continue to fascinate me are the conquest by Sir Edmund Hillary of Mt. Everest in 1953 and the moon landing of Neil Armstrong 16 years later. While Hillary had a team support and in fact, had buddy in Nepalese Sherpan Tenzing Norgay in reaching the peak, his success was recorded as his solo and personal achievement. Armstrong, on the other hand, was the first earthman to step on the lunar face, but he had the engineers and scientists of NASA and the whole American society working to ensure his success that he cannot claim sole glory for the feat.

There was a news report in the Philippine Star few days ago of the incredible achievement of this administration of President Rodrigo Duterte that no other past president ever accomplished. To me, this achievement of the current regime should even outrank the personal fame of Edmund Hillary and the collective glory of Neil Armstrong and the Americans. I am referring to the news that the Philippines has become the world’s top rice importer. Our country is number one in getting our basic staple from other countries, notably Vietnam.

The rice importation of our country is bigger than the total import of the People’s Republic of China. The comparative data imbedded in the news item were not just compelling, they were dramatic. China, as we all know, is the most populous country in the whole world. According to the report, there are more than 1,200,000,000 Chinese. Let me spell out the figure - one billion, two hundred million. The newspaper was generous in pegging our population at 110,000,000. In other words, we, the Filipinos, are not even one-tenth of the number of Chinese.

According to the report of the national newspaper, the Philippines imported a total of three million one hundred thousand (3,100,000) metric tons of rice compared to the Chinese import of two million five hundred thousand (2,500,000) metric tons. To a man who does not dabble in figures, like me, the mathematical proportion is very glaring. Reducing it to simplistic language, i say that 110,000,000 Filipinos eat more rice per person than the 1,200,000,000 Chinese. Differently stated, every Filipino consumes rice ten times more than each Chinaman. To make the comparative picture more vivid, for every kilo of rice that a Chinese cooks for his meal, we, Filipinos cook ten kilos. In terms of sack, everyone of the Chinese citizenry consumes one sack of rice in a certain period while each one of the Filipinos consumes 10 sacks within the same period. This, if rice consumption is a standard of prosperous living, then we can say that under this Duterte administration, the Philippines is more prosperous than China.

The comparison made by the newspaper does not end there. Apparently, China projected to import three million one hundred thousand (3,100,000) tons of rice, to feed its citizenry but its actual importation was lower at 2,500,000 metric tons. The reverse is true in our case. For reasons probably known only to our leadership, we breached higher than what our economists projected.

The surge of rice importation into our country is, according to reports, occasioned by the Rice Tariffication Law Rice. This law allows private traders and companies to import rice without being subject to regulations mainly tariff. The perceived regulations were for the protection of local rice producers. Since the cost of production is reportedly lower in, say, Vietnam compared to ours, naturally their selling price is lower to the price a Filipino farmer is willing sell his product. Customs and tariff rates, along with NFA regulations, were imposed to make sure that the price of Filipino rice remains competitive. With such regulations removed, the price imbalance lies in favor of imported staple. Because local producers are unable to compete the price of imported rice, they might as well stop planting and cultivating rice.  It is, therefore, not difficult to consider the Rice Tariffication Law, sponsored by Sen Cynthia Villar and approved under the presidency of Duterte, as making our own rice farmers irrelevant. So, in effect, our farmers are left with the good option of selling their idle rice lands to such real estate giant as Camella Homes of the family of Sen Villar for conversion to mall sites.


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