Rice Tariffication Law, a death sentence to three million Filipino farmers

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Filipino farmers  and stakeholders in the rice industry issued a joint statement on Wednesday calling for the repeal of the rice tariffication law, stressing  that such a law would be a virtual death to three million rice farmers in the country.

“We, the farmers and major stakeholders in the rice industry, are again joining hands in a presscon-symbolic action to protest against the furthering and deepening negative impacts of the rice liberalization law, or better known as the Rice Tariffication Law (R.A. 11203) to various sectors,” the statement said.

“The RTL meted out a virtual death sentence on the country’s three million small rice farmers whose rice farming tradition is older than the Republic itself,” the statement read.

A total of 41 signatories signed the statement. Among them  were:  Federation of Free Farmers (FFF), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA) , Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Katarungang Panlipunan (KATARUNGAN), Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK),  National Movement for Food Sovereignty (NMFS),  Freedom from Debt Coaliton (FDC), Bantay Bigas.

“We demand that the government immediately impose general safeguard measures on rice imports, impose penalties on rice importers who have clearly undervalued their imports, and find legal ways to deter overimportation in the future,” the group stressed.

The farmers and rice industry stakeholders are unanimous in their analysis that the Rice Liberalization Law is a defective policy that has been crafted without careful thought.

“We therefore demand the immediate suspension of the RLL’s implementation and the conduct of a comprehensive review of its effects on the rice industry, farmers, farm workers and government employees of the NFA. Afterwhich and if necessary, decisely repeal the law to pave the way for a better piece of legislation that will protect and preserve our local rice industry and circumvent the threat to total rice import dependence. In the end, our goal should be food security and self-sufficiency,” the group also said.

The group said that one year had passed since the passage of the said law.

“However, we are a witness to the continuing ineptness and incompetence of government to address the sorry plight of both farmers and farm workers. Their pleas and appeals have fallen on deaf ears despite of numerous attempts of farmers to diplomatically talk sense to government and call for changes in the law – whether to amend, suspend or better yet repeal RLL/RTL,” they said.

They said that upon  checking with the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, palay prices continue to plunge despite the reportedly massive funds expended by the government to prop up palay prices, they said.

The third week of January 2020 showed farmgate prices at P15.89 compared to P19.81 on the same week and month last year. If the PSA data were, at all, reflective of the true pricing realities at the paddy level.

Palay below the 14 percent  moisture content sold at a depressing price range of P10 to P12/kilo, just below the production cost and the PSA people have utterly failed to capture these data.

Latest  market prices of rice showed that retail rice prices have not dropped to the projected and desired consumer surplus levels and have merely returned to their levels in 2017 after spiking in 2018.

This is despite the fact that shortly after the passage of RTL/RLL, three million tons of recorded imported rice entered the country last year. This was more than double the import requirements of the country and made the Philippines the world’s top rice importer in 2019.

“From the passage of the law until today, the situation clearly shows government’s unreadiness to address farmers’ woes and expected losses. Up to now, government has not delivered on the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) in its totality. We are entering the second year but the first year has yet to show significant impact. Its snail paced implementation has only further put at risk the livelihoods of the sector,” they said.

Every peso that is taken out of the income of farmers counts, because this means a reduction in their purchasing power to avail of basic needs for their families, including education and healthcare, they said.

The rice liberalization reform imposed by the government adds too heavy a burden on an already vulnerable sector, who are mostly buried in debt due to their high production costs. It forces them, specifically women farmers, to take on more work in addition to their duties in the fields and their homes. This is despite them being the producers of food for the Filipino population, they said./Stacy Ang

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