By Chito Chavez
The militant group “Bantay Bigas’’ said the government’s initial phase of rice liberation has brought bankruptcy to the country’s rice farmers due to the decrease in the farm gate prices of palay.
Together with the peasant women’s group National Federation of Peasant Women (NFPW), Bantay Bigas feared the “continuing decline of farm gate prices of palay across the country is the first phase of the destructive impact of the Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law after its enactment last February’’.
“We have been warning against this prior to the enactment of the law, and now we are now facing the destruction of the rice farmers, the primary productive force of our national rice industry. Their bankruptcy will certainly throw them into indebtedness, and eventual displacement from production, and then into landlessness,” Cathy Estavillo, Bantay Bigas spokesperson and nominee of Anakpawis Party-list said.
In a press statement, Bantay Bigas said the government reported the average farm gate price in April fell to P18.70 per kilo, from its P20.55 per kilo level last year.
It added the farmers from various provinces such as Nueva Ecija reported that farm gate prices plunged to P13 to P14 per kilo, P16 per kilo in Isabela, P14 to P15 per kilo in Laguna and P14 per kilo in South Cotabao in P14 per kilo.
“Government data is conservative as they only record already those being dried up at the mills or at the possession of the traders, and neglects the farmers’ stock at the barrio level,” she added.
Estavillo also chided Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piňol’s downplaying of the situation, for putting the blame on speculation and manipulation by private traders and not due to RA 11203, and that it is only “temporary.”
“We are being swindled again and again, that the law will not impact the Filipino rice farmers, and yet at present, we are hearing this again from the Duterte government,” Estavillo noted.
She added that liberalization was the epitome of the economic freedom of the private sector sans government regulation.
“Liberalization is worse than speculation or manipulation, it is the total freedom of the private sector, as the government abandoned regulation, so Piňol’s pronouncement is really ‘all air,’” she added.
She claimed that the declining farm gate prices was the first phase of the destructive impact of the RA 11203, and it will be followed by the phase of displacement of rice farmers and deteriorating local rice production.
“Subsequently, when imported rice faces no competition from the local production, this is the phase when retail price surges of rice are already unconstrained, as the government surrendered its regulatory powers on the industry,’’ Estavillo insisted.
“We urge the people, the farmers, consumers and other stakeholders to decry the destructive impact of RA 11203.
The Duterte government has opened the gates of inevitable hunger and poverty for the poor sectors. Rice importation is not equivalent to cheap rice, as it is controlled by foreign monopoly and its local oligarch counterparts, whose primary interest is to profit over the misery of the people,” she said.
Estavillo claimed that the destructive impact on local rice production will be rapid, as the Department of Trade and Industry announced that the arrival of imported rice would be as swift as three to four weeks, as compared to two to three months, via the National Food Authority (NFA).
She noted the government estimated that 2.6 million metric tons of imported rice will enter the local market this year.
“Imported rice will eat up as much as a fifth or 20 percent of the supply in the market, this will throw rice self-sufficiency swiftly into 80% from the already 95%, and totally destroy self-reliance,” Estavillo said.
Estavillo urged the “stakeholders and the people to demand the scrapping of the RA 11203 Rice Liberalization Law, as it threatens the population with foreign dependency for food, hunger, displacement and poverty’’.