Various groups urge to “love” rice industry, call to scrap Rice Liberalization Law on Valentine’s Day

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Various groups led by the rice watchdog group Bantay Bigas on Monday urged the public to “love” the national rice industry by joining the demand of stakeholders to repeal the Republic Act 11203 Rice Liberalization Law, which would be on its first year of implementation on February 14, Valentine’s Day.

Peasant and sectoral groups Amihan or National Federation of Peasant Women, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Amihan Cagayan Chapter, Gabriela, Kadamay, National Food Authority Employees Association (NFAEA) and Anakpawis Party-list held a press conference in Quezon City to announce their protest actions on the said date dubbed as “Rise for Rice! Junk Rice Liberalization!”

“We call for a national undertaking to decisively protect and preserve our local rice industry by demanding the repeal of the Rice Liberalization Law. This is not an exclusive concern of Filipino rice farmers, but of the whole population, as rice is our staple food. Scrapping the law is crucial to salvage the country’s food self-sufficiency and circumvent the threat of total rice import-dependence,” Cathy Estavillo, spokesperson of Bantay Bigas and secretary- general of Amihan, said during the press conference.

Bantay Bigas was the group that led the 50,000-signature petition for the law’s repeal which it submitted to the offices of House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III last November.

“The people already expressed their opposition to the law, thus, by March, we are aiming to gather more signatures of another 100,000. This would be an undisputed sentiment that the people indeed ‘love’ our very own rice and detest being forced to consume imported rice,” she added.

Estavillo also announced that Bantay Bigas and other peasant groups would kick off their protest in the morning of February 14, on Friday, in front of the Department of Agriculture central office in Quezon City. They would also have a caravan in Morayta street in Manila, and an assembly with other sectors for the protest march to Mendiola bridge.

For his part, KMP Chairperson Emeritus and former Anakpawis lawmaker Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano said that the implementation of RA 11203 is calamitous to the local rice industry and livelihood of rice farmers in the country.

“We witnessed the onslaught of the law, when palay farm gate prices were at the lowest P7 per kilo in September. There should be no debate that the law is anti-Filipino rice farmer, detrimental to the national food security, self-sufficiency and self-reliance,” Mariano said.

Moreover, Jacquiline Ratin, chairperson of Amihan Cagayan Chapter, said that in their province, a one hectare rice farm yielding 100 cavans, endured losses of more than P11,300 last October, due to low farm gate price at P10 per kilo. She claimed that if the palay prices were raised to P20 per kilo, the farmers could have earned about more than P28,000, that could have supported the family cost of living up to the start of the year.

On the consumer side, Mimi Doringo, spokesperon of Kadamay urban poor group said that the cheaper rice of NFA which is at P27 per kilo has been scarce unlike the past years. The lowest price of commercial rice they avail is at P32 per kilo. Her group joined the call of Bantay Bigas to lower prices of rice to P25 to 27 per kilo.

As RA 11203 decoupled the important functions of the NFA, it has threatened the job security of about 1,800 employees as result of the restructuring plan approved by the Governance Commission for Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation (GCG). The NFAEA has been at the forefront in opposing the law as it is anti-worker and anti-farmer.

Gabriela, as one of the lead convenor organization of Bantay Bigas, announced that the “One Billion Rising” (OBR) activity will be part of February 14 protest at Mendiola bridge in Manila, to demand the repeal of the law, upliftment of women rice farmers and families.

As part of their demand to repeal the law, the groups are urging the enactment of House Bill 477 Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) bill, primarily authored by Gabrieal Women’s Party Representative Arlene Brosas. The bill proposes the authentic development program for the national rice industry, involving the three-year allocation of P495 billion, which includes P185 billion for its core programs and P310 billion for the procurement program of the NFA./Stacy Ang

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