Suspend rice imports, Butil group pleads

A group on Tuesday appealed to President Rodrigo Duterte “to suspend rice imports with urgency” and to order a parallel investigation on why three million metric tons of rice would have been dumped into the local market by the end of the year.

The Butil Party-list group, through former representative Cecilia Leonila Chavez, said the rice imports had been “reckless and tainted with corruption” as validated by the findings of the Federation of Free Farmers, which had been documenting the undervaluation of rice imports to depress the amount that would go to the amelioration fund for farmers. 

Meanwhile, Rep. Luis Villafuerte on Tuesday urged Congress to enact a measure providing rice growers with cash transfers or subsidies to be sourced from the rice import tariff collections in excess of the P10 billion earmarked yearly for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. 

Villafuerte filed House Resolution 532 providing congressional authorization for an immediate special fund―the proposed Rice Farmer Financial Assistance―to let the Department of Agriculture grant cash transfers to small farmers to help them cope with the low palay prices this main harvest season. 

Villafuerte, deputy speaker for finance, said given this action, Congress could help President Duterte provide instant relief to small palay growers reeling from declining farmgate prices.

In the Senate, Senator Cynthia Villar on Tuesday said they believed the programs under the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund would address the perennial woes in the agriculture sector.

In a statement, Villar said the RCEF would also help the farmers and fishermen lower their production cost and increase their productivity and income.

She thanked Duterte for allaying the fears of the farmers and for reassuring them that the rice tariffication law would work for their benefit in the long run.

Under the law, the tariff collections from the rice imports would go to a farm amelioration fund and the initial target is a P10-billion money pool.  

Chavez said the three million metric tons that would have been dumped into the country by Dec. 31 this year would be enough even with a six-month suspension of rice imports. Chavez recalled that the Butil Party-list group was among the party-list groups to vote against the rice tariff law. 

The actual import needs per year was less than two million metric tons and that figure included a decent buffer stock, Chavez said. 

According to the USDA, the Philippines is now the world’s biggest rice importer, even outpacing China―a country with more than 1 billion people. 

“The rice tariff law may have eased the inflationary fears. But it is now a virtual death sentence on the country’s three million small rice farmers,” Chavez, a former House member, said. 

Chavez said even the programs that the supposed P10-billion amelioration fund was supposed to finance were “basically flawed and wanting.”  

“Farmer training and farm mechanization are good programs, but what would tractors and training serve if the farmers do not have adequate irrigation, adequate credit and adequate technologies to complement the machines?” Chavez said. With Macon Ramos-Araneta

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , rice tariffication law , Butil Party-list group , Cecilia Leonila Chavez
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