Freeze rice imports!

October 20, 2019

When a law seems to be not functioning according to its intent and spirit, then its implementation must be suspended and the measure itself subjected to thorough review.

This move is even more morally compelling if the targeted beneficiaries of the legislation are hurting – a rather ironic consequence.

A raft of  mitigation measures built into the law has been activated to arrest the crash of domestic rice prices while social protection mechanisms have also been put in place, but all these efforts seem to be useless in stemming the onslaught of foreign rice imports.

Farmers and their families are facing a gloomy holiday season as their losses mount and they sink deeper into debt, raising the ironic prospect of hunger and the loss of residual property unencumbered by loan sharks.

And since desperate situations require desperate state action, we agree with and support an urgent call by a lady lawmaker championing the plight of our farmers.

A freshman senator is merely calling for an interim reprieve by Executive action, not a  repeal of the law itself which went into effect early this year.

Sen. Imee Marcos over the weekend appealed to President Duterte to temporarily freeze rice importation in the country until end of December this year to prevent further income losses and the suffering of many Filipino farmers.

Marcos made the bold call after discovering in a recent budget hearing of the Department of Agriculture that huge volumes of imported rice purchased from some rice-producing Asian countries remain stored in several warehouses.

Citing DA data, Marcos said the top five suppliers of imported rice in the country are Thailand, Vietnam, India, China, and Pakistan.

Marcos said the livelihood of local rice farmers are being affected due to the plummeting palay prices since the rice tariffication law was implemented.

The lady lawmaker asked the President to temporarily stop the importation and let the imported rice stocked in warehouses be consumed until yearend.

“I am calling on President Duterte to temporarily freeze the importation of rice. There are several reasons why we should temporarily stop importing. Let’s raise the rice tariff. Let’s impose an 800-percent increase just like in Japan and Korea, they do that,” Marcos said.

“We should also impose stricter sanitary and phytosanitary measures for rice, just like what other countries do to Philippine products, such as bananas and pineapples. They keep doing that to us,” she added.

In fact, the latest action taken by the DA is a virtual admission by the administration that the law is inflicting more harm than providing benefits to farmers.

In view of the declining palay prices since the rice tariffication law took effect in March, the government is set to give P5,000 cash assistance to affected farmers tilling one hectare and below.

Agriculture Sec. William Dar said the cash assistance is a one-time cash-out and this would be taken from the tariff being collected out of the Rice Tariffication Law.

Around P3 billion would be needed for the 600,000 rice farmer-beneficiaries in the country.

"I'm hoping that this (cash assistance) will be given before Christmas," Dar said.

At present, he said about P11 billion have been collected from RTL.

Meanwhile, Dar said the government has decided to defer the implementation of safeguard duties on rice imports.

“I presented the proposal to the Cabinet and their decision (is that) there might be an inflationary effect," he said.

Dar said there would be a meeting of the Economic Development Cluster on October 24 to include discussion on the proposed general safeguard duty on rice import.