"Balancing the need to produce enough rice and make the staple affordable and available at all times is not an easy task."
Senator Ralph Recto, a political economist in the true sense of the word, was correct when he explained his vote on the rice tariffication bill that would soon await President Duterte’s signature to become law.
“Rice tariffication is not the end-all and be-all in attaining food security,” said Recto.
“Much remains to be done to make affordable food available to all, at all times. It is also wrong to benchmark food security to one crop alone—rice, even if it is the national staple,” Recto said.
It is a complex problem, and the solutions to our perennial rice affordability-availability equation are many. It is not a one-size, fit-all solution that some think rice tariffication is.
Flooding the market with cheap imported rice is palliative to the cost-push inflation in food that we recently experienced, and continue to. But flooding it forever with cheap imports will also affect our palay farmers negatively, unless a combination of pro-active measures is done, as the bill envisions.
At the end of the day, it is all about implementation.
Recto hopes that the promise of the proposed law will not be lost in execution. “It is a fear that is not unfounded. Ours is a government littered with the carcasses of laws full of good intentions, only to die at the hands of bad implementors,” he warned.
Indeed. So many programs have been launched to attain food security, and about the only one that attained rice self-sufficiency, in its time so material because the Indo-Chinese countries were yet to produce a surplus of the national staple, was during the time President Ferdinand Marcos named his executive secretary, Rafael Salas, to undertake a crash program to achieve the same.
But that was a different epoch. The consumption numbers were relatively small, with a population of 38 million compared to today’s 107 million.
And even Salas’ much-ballyhooed achievement did not last long. During the second term of Marcos, when he had left to take a post at the United Nations, rains and floods inundated the central plains of Luzon, creating a severe shortage that later precipitated the declaration of martial law on whose first months the public was forced to eat rice and corn mix.
The next Marcos experiment to achieve rice self-sufficiency was Masagana 99, piggy-backed on a new seed that the International Rice Research Institute developed. Successful at the beginning with bumper harvests, the cost to government and the bad repayment of loans extended to farmers became a drag on the economy.
Successive governments, from Cory to Duterte, were faced with big and small crises pertaining to rice, either on massive spending that was laid to waste by a combination of inefficiency and corruption, or pig-headedness about solutions bound to fail even at inception. Or natural calamities, from droughts to floods to typhoons.
Our entry into the WTO in 1995 was done with an exception to free trade in the case of rice, through a ten-year quantitative restriction where the National Food Authority was to have monopoly and control on the importation of the staple. By 2004, we asked for another extension, and was granted seven years, from 2005 to June 30, 2012. When I was at the helm of the National Food Authority, I was tasked to negotiate for another extension of five years, and though it was granted years after I had left the NFA, that final extension ended June 30, 2017. It took Congress and the government as a whole one and a half years to pass the rice tariffication bill that would substitute for quantitative restrictions.
But the law is not a magic wand that would finally resolve the issues be-deviling our romance with rice.
The issue of high consumer prices of a basic commodity would be solved, to a great extent, by importing. But that writes finis to the quest for self-sufficiency, which is truly a rather impossible dream. Worse, it could kill the palay-farming sector, which is something we can ill afford. Creating a balance between the need to produce enough rice (enough, not totally self-sufficient) through greater productivity at lower cost to farmers, and the need to make the staple affordable and available at all times is not an easy task.
In some future column, we would write about this complex problem and the many solutions that need to be done effectively and efficiently by the executive department and its agencies.
For now, we can only echo the hope of Sen. Recto when he reminded fellow senators that as authors of the measure, “we must see to it that the promised minimum P10 billion in Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund is appropriated annually. And equally important is that the fund adheres to the menuwe have stipulated in this bill.”
When we acceded to the WTO during FVR’s presidency, Congress created an Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. That was 1995. Now, 23 years later and counting, where have all the ACEF funds gone?
To paraphrase a Joan Baez classic ballad: “Where have all the flowers gone?,” in the case of ACEF, gone to private pockets…when will they (we) ever learn?
Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau reported that as of the weekend past, the number of visitors to the island reached 10 million. The target this year is for 11- million visitors, a tad higher than last year’s actual arrivals of 10.73 million.
We hope that despite the Boracay closure and rehabilitation, we in the Philippines reach or at least approximate our seven-million visitor target for 2018.
The “cold” cross-strait relations since 2016 has been marked by a decline in visitor arrivals from mainland China to Taiwan over the last two years, although countries covered by the New Southbound Policy such as the Philippines and Vietnam have seen a 51 percent and 33 percent respective increases in visitors to Taiwan over the same period last year.