By Ellson Quismorio
Bayan Muna Party-List solons on Friday reiterated the need to repeal Republic Act (RA) 11203, or the controversial Rice Tariffication Law, as they cited the continued downward spiral in the situation of Filipino farmers.
“Now even government data is showing that farmers are going bankrupt because of rice import liberalization,” said Rep. Carlos Zarate.
“The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that a kilo of palay (unhusked rice) was sold at an average of P15.96 during the third week of September, down 1.4 percent and 30.1 percent from week-ago and year-ago levels, respectively,” said the Davao-based solon.
“The PSA is also saying that the average farm gate price of palay has slid to its lowest in eight years, and we have received reports that in some areas a kilo of palay ranges from P5 to P7 only and it is even cheaper than darak or the husk of the palay itself,” added Zarate, who is a senior deputy minority leader.
His fellow Bayan Muna nominee, neophyte House member Rep. Ferdinand Gaite, commented: “Dapat na talagang ibasura na ang Rice Import Liberalization Law bago pa tuluyan nitong mapatay ang mga magsasaka at agrikultura sa Pilipinas.”
(The Rice Import Liberalization Law must be junked before it completely kills off our farmers and Philippine agriculture.)
The law is being blamed for the huge drop in farm gate prices of local palay. This was because the law opened up the local market to cheaper rice products from other countries.
Compounding the problem was the fact that the Philippines already has higher production costs compared to neighboring countries. This makes it harder for local farmers to sell the palay they harvested.
The farming of rice–the Filipinos’ staple food–employs some 2.5 million people.
“It has even taken the power of the National Food Authority (NFA) to procure palay directly from farmers and somehow influence its price so it would not become dirt cheap due to imported and smuggled rice,” Gaite said.
“Instead of strengthening the NFA to buy more palay and regulate rice price, the Rice Import Liberalization law castrated it…at the expense of the jobs of hundreds of NFA employees,” he further claimed.
Meanwhile, Zarate pushed for the creation of a supplemental budget that would help ease the burden on local farmers through an augmented palay procurement program on the part of the government.
“We, in the Makabayan bloc, along with other concerned lawmakers, have filed the resolution to increase the budget for the procurement of palay from farmers to P15 billion and we hope that this can be done even with a supplemental budget. This is just a temporary solution but we hope that it can help farmers in the meantime,” he said.
The House of Representatives under Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano recently moved to increase the NFA’s palay procurement fund from P7 billion to P10 billion under the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for the year 2020.