“Hunger, poverty, death, will be the only legacies the poor will remember about this regime.”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — Farmers denounced President Rodrigo Duterte for signing the rice tariffication bill into law last Feb. 15.The law removes the quantitative restrictions on the importation of rice and imposes tariffs on rice imports.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the law “is equivalent to a death sentence for the local rice industry and rice farmers.”
KMP said the law will directly affect 13.5 million palay farmers and their families, 17.5 million farm workers, and more than 10 million Filipinos dependent on NFA rice, 20,000 rice retailers and 55,000 rice mill workers.
Under the law, National Food Authority will no longer supply low-priced rice to the local market. Government’s rice buffer stock will only be for emergency and disaster relief. The average volume of NFA rice for disaster relief operations is about 30,000 metric tons or 600,000 bags a year.
Furthermore, the NFA will no longer maintain stock for stabilization of supply and price at the consumer level especially during lean months.
Danilo Ramos, KMP chairperson, said in a statement, “It’s the beginning of the end of the local rice industry. Even with the rice industry enhancement fund, the local rice industry do not stand a chance with massive rice imports.”
Ramos said the country’s decades of experience under the World Trade Organization proved that rice importation policy was never a guarantee of sufficient rice supply and lower rice prices.
According to Ibon Foundation, from 2008 to 2010, the country imported an annual average of 2.2 million metric tons of rice but the price continued to increase at an annual average of P1.20 per kilo until 2016.
In a separate statement, rice watch group Bantay Bigas and the peasant women group Amihan or the National Federation of Peasant women said the law will destroy the country’s self-sufficiency and self-reliance for food.
Meanwhile, Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao vowed to file a bill for the repeal of the law on the date it shall take effect.
Relying on rice imports, he said, is contrary to food security.
“The law is a tombstone for the Philippine rice industry, and will be buried to death, the livelihood and welfare of 2.4 million rice farmers and more farm workers…” Casilao said.
He added that the law will undermine the P350 billion – 19 million metric ton – palay sector. “This is clearly betrayal of the people’s and national interest,” he said.
Casilao warned that Duterte will earn the fury of tens of millions of rice stakeholders, including the poor consumers.
“Hunger, poverty, death, will be the only legacies the poor will remember about this regime,” he said.
Casilao has been pushing for “an authentic rice industry development program” to solve the chronic rice crisis in the country. He is the author of the House Bill No. 8512 Rice Industry Development Act bill and HB 555 Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB).