By KAILA MARIE ALFORTE
MANILA – On Valentine’s Day, various farmers groups knocked on the hearts of presidential aspirants to junk the law that removed the restrictions on rice imports – three years since it was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“We challenge candidates to heed the demands of our food producers and consumers to ensure that food security and rice agenda are part of their platforms. The past three years of rice liberalization have only brought bankruptcy, suffering and distress to our rice farmers. That is why the candidate farmers are looking for is one with a heart and is ready to advance the interest of the farmers and indigents,” Amihan Secretary General and Bantay Bigas Spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said.
The Republic Act No. 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law was President Duterte’s supposed response to the increasing prices of rice. This removed the quantitative restrictions on rice importation, which resulted in the flooding of imported rice in the local market, while the farm gate price of the produce of Filipino rice farmers plummeted to an all-time low.
In its statement, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas reported that the country’s rice self-sufficiency has constantly decreased yearly under the Duterte administration. The Philippines’ rice self-sufficiency significantly dropped from 95 percent in 2016 to 80 percent in 2020.
In their protest action, women farmers from Amihan held placards that read: “Hearts for farmers.”
Estavillo said the increase in palay production as well as the distribution of seeds, fertilizers and cash assistance for farmers “will remain insignificant as long as depressed palay farm gate prices and lack of government support in farm inputs and post-harvest facilities persists and local markets are flooded with imported rice.”
Current system not built to achieve food security
In a statement, Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (Masipag) said that the agricultural system in place in the country is not meant to address food security in the country.
“What this tells us is that both the current agricultural production system and the neoliberal policies that govern it are not actually built to achieve food security. Ironically, its problematic harmony that serves only for the profit of agri-TNCs is the very reason why we have food insecurity in the first place” Cris Panerio, national coordinator of Masipag, said.
On the production level, Masipag said the rice industry is generally chemical-based, making farmers “trapped in a cycle of expensive production costs and unpredictable yields.”
The liberalization policies of the government, on the other hand, have led to farmers being “totally removed from the market and a chance to sell their milled rice at a price that would sustain them.”
Masipag, a network of people’s organizations and scientists, said that the government has instead turned to planting and developing genetically-modified crops such as the GM yellow rice, which, they said, will “enable irreversible environmental contamination, contaminating not only our local rice varieties but also the country’s local rich biodiversity, ultimately disrupting the balance of countless local ecosystems in the archipelago.”
On the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA)
Farmers groups have also asked candidates to push for the enactment of House Bill 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) as this will strengthen the National Food Authority, and has provisions that will provide genuine services for both farmers and consumers.
Its provisions include a Rice Production Socialized Credit Program with a P25-billion allocation, a P50 billion Farm Inputs Support Program, and P310 billion for National Food Authority’s local procurement program.
“We urge all the peasants, consumers, and other sectors in the country to join the calls to junk the Rice Liberalization Law and push for the enactment of RIDA which will genuinely promote their interests, national food security, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance,” said longtime peasant leader and Anakpawis Partylist nominee Rafael Mariano. (JJE, RVO)