By Madelaine B.Miraflor
As more rice imports enter the country, prices of palay fell to as low as P8 per kilogram in some parts of the country, prompting farmers and food security groups to call for immediate repeal of the Rice Tariffication law.
Farmers’ groups and food security advocates, including those under the coalition National Movement for Food Sovereignty (NMFS), have strongly called for the immediate repeal of the Rice Tariffication Act in order to protect the livelihoods of 2.4 million rice farmers in the country.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that palay prices per kilo have already gone down by 22 percent from their peak of P23.14 in September 2018 to around P18 in July 2019.
Reports by members of NMFS also showed that palay prices have already fell to as low as P8/kg in some parts of Central Luzon.
This, as the amount of cheaper, imported rice that entered the country from January to July already reached to 2.4 million metric tons (MT), data from Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) showed. This is equivalent to 17 percent of the country’s rice consumption for the entire 2019.
“Prices are expected to fall even further in the coming main harvest season starting September as local traders are forced to compete with large volumes of cheap imported rice in the market,” said FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor.
For her part, Trinidad Domingo, chairperson of Katipunan ng mga Bagong Pilipina (KBP) and co-convenor of the NMFS from Nueva Ecija, said small rice farmers in the country fear that the Rice Tariffication Law, which allowed the unlimited entry of imported rice, will lead to “early bankruptcy of rice farmers and the demise of the rice industry.”
According to her, a growing number of rice farmers are already selling their rice farms.
The Rice Tariffication Act or Republic Act (RA) 11203 lifted the quantitative restrictions on rice imports and imposed 35 percent tariff on rice coming from ASEAN countries and 50 percent for those from outside ASEAN.
According to Senator Cynthia Villar, the principal author of RA 11203, the law serves as the final compliance of the Philippines to its commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
However, NMFS claimed that the Philippine government could have stood firmly to exempt rice from all-out trade liberalization as it remains a key food security crop and crucial to the livelihoods of farmers.
Manuel Rosario, co-convenor of NMFS, said the law does not seek to secure the country’s food security but promotes and protects the interests of big exporters and traders in the country as well as the agenda of economic managers to “stabilize” inflation to ease off worries of bankers and lenders.
The FFF also explained that the WTO, in fact, allows member-countries like the Philippines to request an exemption from certain rules under certain conditions.
“There was nothing to stop us from asking for another waiver or extension after July 2017. Of course, this would have required us to give additional concessions to some WTO member-countries, some of which may have not been acceptable. But the government just decided not to negotiate anymore for another extension and just remove the QRs. So, it was not true that the WTO forced us to tariffy rice. It was our own decision,” Montemayor said.
To allay fears about Filipino farmers losing their market, the National Food Authority (NFA) stressed that the agency has never stopped buying palay from farmers even if it still has 4 million bags of imported rice in its warehouses.
“The NFA’s procurement operation is a year-round activity. Our field personnel is always ready to receive palay deliveries from farmers through our more than 300 buying stations strategically located across the country,” NFA administrator Judy Carol Dansal said.
From January to August, the NFA had already bought 5.9 million bags of palay, exceeding its target of 5.3 million by 11 percent. The total volume is already 41 percent of the agency’s 14,460,000 bags target for the year.
To recall, RA 11203 requires NFA to maintain a 15 to 30 day buffer stock of rice based on national daily consumption requirement (DCR) of 651,860 bags.
The law also stripped away NFA’s rice importation function and repealed its regulatory powers over the grains industry so that the agency could focus on buffer stocking for calamities and emergencies.