By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto on Wednesday urged the government to ensure that the country’s farmers will not be left out as it opened the importation of rice to private traders.
Recto made the appeal after the Palace announced Tuesday that President Duterte has approved the “unimpeded importation of rice” by lifting the import quota on rice in a bid to reduce the rising prices of commodities.
Groups raised concern that the liberalizing rice importation would hurt local farmers as they would not be able to compete with imported rice. Recto, for his part, also believed that it “will hit our rice farmers hard.”
“This is a tough balancing act. We must hit the sweet spot that will protect farmers from bankruptcy and spare consumers from high rice prices,” Recto said in a statement.
“Hindi pwedeng busog ang isa, gutom naman yung isa (One should not be full, while the other is starving). We should give what the rice-consuming poor want without harming the rice-producing poor,” he appealed.
“The challenge is to fill the pots with rice without leaving the pockets of farmers empty, or their farms abandoned,” Recto added.
Recto said at least two billion local rice farmers could lose P19,200 income per hectare or P87.9 billion a year should the government fail to assist them in allowing traders to imported rice.
He said this could result to an “endo of massive scale.”
Recto said the government should use the tariffs paid on imported rice to boost rural productivity. He said it should not just apply to rice “but all farm produce.”
“I think there is no orthodoxy in proposing direct cash aid to the severely affected farmers,” Recto said.
Echoing Recto, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said that while he is not objecting to the Palace’s move to lift the restrictions on rice import, the administration should help farmers in modernizing their methods and improving their income.
Plenary debates are ongoing in Senate on the Senate Bill No. 1998, which seeks to lift the quantitative import restrictions on rice and replace it with tariffs.
Under the bill, an annual P10-billion competitiveness enhancement fund would be allotted for the rice sector.
The Palace said they would continue to support the measure despite the President’s move to lift rice restrictions ahead of Congress.