Lapid to outgoing DA chief: Answer farmers’ concern on Rice Tariffication Law

Senator Manuel “Lito” Lapid on Monday, June 27 called on Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar to look into the concern of farmers and farm workers regarding the reported consequences and adverse effects of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or Republic Act No. 11203 before he exits as DA chief.

Department of Agriculture Sec. William Dar (photo: DA)

Lapid reached out to Dar in a letter, dated June 27, 2022, after farmers called for his help regarding their complaints and concerns on the implementation of the RTL.

In his letter, the senator informed Dar that local farmers specifically want answers as they complained how imported rice flooded the local markets and they were forced to sell their harvest for very low profit or even at a loss, and how the government failed to help them in reducing their cost of production, increasing their yields, and boosting their productivity, among others, which are all supposed to be part of their benefits under the law.

As reported by the Federation of Free Farmers, Lapid said such promises did not fully materialize, and left many farmers to cope up with huge losses.

“Bagama’t patapos na ang termino ni Sec. Dar, kailangan sigurong bigyan natin ng totohanang pagsusuri ang naging implementasyon ng RTL na nagdulot ng pasakit sa maraming kababayan nating mga magsasaka (Even though Secretary Dar’s term is about to end, we need to make sure there is a real review on the implementation of the RTL which in the end heavily burdened many of our farmers),” Lapid said in a statement.

“Ito ay upang mabigyan natin ng gabay ang susunod na administrasyon kung paano maisasaayos ang kasalukuyang programa para sa sektor ng agrikultura sa ating bansa (This would give the next administration some guidelines on how to fix the current program for the sake of the country’s agriculture sector),” he said.

Lapid pointed out that the Federation of Free Farmers, in a letter addressed to the Department of Finance (DOF) last October 2020, had already called out the Bureau of Customs (BoC) for failing to adopt reforms that caused an increase in shortfall in the collection of tariffs on rice products from 2019.

Lapid also questioned why the DA—out of the estimated 12 million farmers, fishers, farm workers, and other target agriculture-based beneficiaries nationwide—only registered and encoded 5.4 million in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).

As of March 8, 2022, out of the 5.4 million, only 1.04 million rice farmer-beneficiaries were given unconditional cash assistance of P5,000.

He also said that despite the passage of Republic Act No. 10969, otherwise known as the Free Irrigation Service Act, farmers with landholdings of eight (8) hectares or less are exempted from paying the irrigation service fees (ISF), provided that the same are registered in the RSBSA.

Despite the existence of this law, they complained not all farmers are covered by the program, and those who are covered are not fully aware of the registration process.

“It was recently reported that Vietnam and Thailand plan to jointly raise export prices for rice. These two countries account for 95% of our annual rice import volume. If we do not closely monitor our rice self-sufficiency, we could end up at the mercy of rice-exporting countries,” Lapid said in his letter to Dar.

“Given the various global economic challenges and political turmoil, the Philippines cannot afford to be dependent on imports. Without increased support and assistance to local agriculture, we would become vulnerable to all external supply and price shocks which would, in turn, hurt the whole economy, especially the poorest and underprivileged, both on the side of producers and consumers of agricultural products,” he warned.

Lapid said it is public interest that the DA takes the initiative to look into these reported consequences and adverse effects of the RTL law so lawmakers can identify possible amendments and revisions, improve its implementation and provide safety nets to Filipino farmers and farm workers.

“Thus, detailed answers and reports on the above mentioned issues and concerns and proposed action plans to address the same would be highly appreciated,” the lawmaker said.

Moreover, Lapid also asked Dar to provide an update regarding the Philippine Rice Industry Roadmap 2030.

“The RTL itself mandates the multi-sectoral formulation of a new Rice Industry Roadmap. However, three years after the law was enacted, we have yet to see this new roadmap,” he noted.

“It must be stressed that this roadmap should have been completed already by September 2019, or within 180 days from the effectivity of the law. May we inquire as to the status of this endeavor? This could very well be the key to the effective implementation of the RTL, yet there does not appear to be urgency to comply with this mandate,” he emphasized.