El Niño & death of the rice industry

Published March 25, 2019, 12:30 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



V. L. Sonny Domingo

The  water crisis does not just affect the water users of Metro Manila. It deprives to rice farmers benefitting from the multipurpose dams built with World Bank loans of irrigation water. Every second crop, farmers finds this to be a problem because potable water has priority over irrigation water from the multipurpose dams. It is like saying water is more important than food. And so our rice farmers do not only lose their livelihood but also their investments, most of which is borrowed money from usurers.

Such is the plight of our smallholder farmers which contributes to the slow death of the rice industry.

If President Rodrigo R. Duterte will not watch out, this water crisis and the death of the rice industry will lead to the failure of Philippine agriculture and this could be his waterloo.

Add to this the new Rice Tariffication Law which now allows the unbridled importation (or smuggling)  of rice by anybody which  will dampen the price of palay if not controlled. This has always been the standard claim of everyone who benefits from the continuing regulation (or ill-regulation of the National Food Authority)  since Marcos, (who was the champion of the farmers)  was ousted. He was practically thrown out of the window with his rice self sufficiency program.

This started the slow death of Philippine agriculture punctuated by the Mendiola massacre that was just asking for an increase of price support for palay and the acceleration of a genuine land reform program under the new dispensation of Pres. Cory C. Aquino who they perceived to be the savior of Philippine democracy and Philippine agriculture. Added to this was the Hacienda Luisita massacre and the reduction of irrigated areas due to El Nino.

The only saving grace now is the IRR of the new Rice Tariffication Law sponsored by the Senate Committee on Agriculture headed by Sen. Cynthia A. Villar with its counterpart in the House of Representatives.

Senator Villar has been  lobbying unceasingly for the passage of the law but if the IRR fails to address the following, it will then slide down to the extinction of the rice industry in the Philippines since it will be taken over by rice importation and our farmers will then be an endangered species:

  1. Decreasing hectarage of irrigated areas from more than 1,000,000 hectares during the Marcos.
  1. Aging farmers at 60 years old and their sons and daughters would rather work as construction workers or call center agents.
  1. Declining “effective”  budget  support to Philippine agriculture.
  1. Dole-out policy instead of sustainable farm business development policy towards commercial rice production.
  1. Failure of the NFA to control prices and promote farm productivity.
  1. Failure of the government to add more irrigated areas consonant with population and rice consumption growth.
  1. Fragmented organization of farmers to lobby for the appropriate policies.
  1. Rise of leftist peasant, farmers, and farm worker organizations with the party lists.
  1. Failure of Philippine agriculture to recover.
  1. Appointment of non-technical secretaries of agriculture, agrarian reform, and environment and natural resources.

The water crisis, the food crisis, and the non-recovery of Philippine agriculture are the perfect ingredients to destabilize any government including President Duterte’s government.

The water and food deficiency will continue for as long as the present agricultural managers continue with their present policies and programs that have been there since EDSA 1.

As a result, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that upon the assumption of President Duterte,  the growth of Philippine agriculture declined from 3% in the third quarter of 2016 to 2.6% in the same quarter of the following year 2017. It then dived down to -0.4% in the same quarter in 2018.

To save the republic and its president, Congress, particularly the Committees on Agriculture in the Senate and the House of Representatives, MUST NOW  get  its act together and legislate a paradigm shift in government policies and program for the executive department (DA and DAR) to execute and implement, instead of continuing with their incestuous policies and program some of which are anomalous.

Both houses represent the people and the affected sectors. If the worst happens, there is really no one to blame but both houses because they failed to represent the people as to their needs, and not as to what the agriculture managers need.


(V.L. Sonny Domingo  is a  “farmer rights advocate”   as the Permanent National Chairman of Kapisanan ng Magsasaska, Mangingisda at Manggagawa ng Pilipinas (KaMMMPi). He has 50 years in depth exposure and experience in subsistence farming and served as consultant of various commercial farms.)