Rice import controls eyed

Palace wants strict rules instead of outright ban

President Rodrigo Duterte has changed his mind and decided not to suspend rice imports after all, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said Friday, after promising subsidies for farmers hurt by the influx of cheap rice.

READ: Rice tariff law stays­—Rody

Rice import controls eyed
BETTER WITH EXCESS. File photo of a worker arranging last summer sacks of rice at the NFA warehouse in Visayas Avenue. President Rodrigo Duterte, who changed his mind and decided not to implement his recent order suspending rice importation after his discussion with Agriculture Secretary William Dar, has said it is better to have a warehouse filled with excess rice than a shortage where people starve and farmers are at the losing end.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the government would just be strict on importation requirements while measures are put in place to assist rice farmers affected by the continued drop in palay prices due to the Rice Tariffication Law.

“What the President is going to do now is to help the farmers by subsidizing them and buying rice from them,” he added.

Duterte earlier said the country would stop rice imports as the government would purchase the produce of local farmers who were forced to sell their palay at much lower prices because of the liberalized rice trade regime.

But Dar met the President Wednesday night and briefed him on various solutions put up by the Department of Agriculture to assist rice farmers who suffered heavy losses.

The Federation of Free Farmers expressed dismay over the President’s decision to continue to allow rice imports, contrary to his earlier directive to suspend them while the current harvest is ongoing.

Various farmer groups have demanded the suspension of rice imports following the surge of imports and the drastic decline in palay farmgate prices.

FFF national manager Raul Montemayor complained about the apparent inconsistency and lack of coherence in the policy statements of top government officials.

“President Duterte announced the stoppage of imports during harvest time as early as July 2019 in a dialogue with farmers in Ilocos Sur but his directive was not followed. Instead, imports ballooned to 3 million tons, or more than double our import requirements for the year, making the Philippines the top rice importer in the world. His recent order to suspend imports while farmers are harvesting seems to have been ignored or reversed again,” he said.

Montemayor criticized the tendency of government officials to focus on palliative and band-aid solutions to the problems of farmers.

“NFA is now being ordered to have a 30 instead of 15-day buffer stock. This will require a budget of P28 billion versus NFA’s current allotment of only P7 billion. Even if NFA had the money, it will not have enough warehouse space to store a 30-day buffer stock. Besides, most farmers will simply not be able to sell to the agency because they cannot comply with the NFA’s stringent requirements for moisture content, cleanliness, and quality,” he said.

The federation noted that the P3-billion annual allotment for the cash transfer program will be sufficient for only 600,000 rice farmers out of the total farming population of 2.5 million farmers.

It added that the cash transfer of P5,000 is minuscule compared to the P20,000 to P30,000 that farmers are losing every season because of the drop in palay prices.

Montemayor added that the tightening of import requirements will provide only temporary relief to farmers.

In February, Duterte signed the Rice Tariffication Law allowing private firms to import rice as long as they secure permits from the Bureau of Plant Industry. The move was aimed at lowering rice prices amid rising rates of inflation.

The law seeks to protect farmers by allotting a portion of duties on imported rice to the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, but some groups criticized the law for opening the country to cheap imported rice that forced many to sell their produce at lower prices.

Duterte on Thursday said it is better to have a warehouse filled with excess rice than a shortage where people starve and farmers are at the losing end.

Duterte made this remark after he asked Dar and Congress to “appropriate money” to buy rice from local farmers on Nov. 19.

“I said so to avoid chaos, I told Dar to buy all the rice. Even if it costs more than imported rice, buy them. Now, get them, place them in the warehouse. What’s going to happen is we’ll have an excess of rice,” Duterte said in Filipino during the launch of the Elderly Program Center in Taguig City.

“So what’s the problem? You’re going to eat them all eventually. After all, for 24 hours a day and 365 days a year, we all eat rice.”

He said he is willing to let the government, particularly the National Food Authority, spend billions of pesos to buy more palay (unhusked rice) from farmers to improve their plight.

“Now if it costs more, then Dar will buy them. If the government incurs losses from buying them so be

it. How much will we be losing? P2 billion, so be it,” he added. “At least we will be making the producers happy and we will be paying them.”

On Thursday, Dar said Duterte has directed the NFA to accelerate the turnover of its inventory by buying more palay and selling more regular milled rice at an average of 20,000 50-kilogram bags of rice per day.

He said the President also ordered to extend the unconditional cash transfer for small farmers affected by low palay prices from one to two years.

A total of P3 billion will be allocated for cash transfer extension that will benefit 600,000 farmers tilling one-half to two hectares of rice land every year.

At the height of main cropping, palay buying by the government from farmers has reached 11.52 million bags as November 2019 ends.

From October to November 2019 alone, palay procurement reached a total of 4.67 million bags, more than threefold the 1.15 million bags bought during the same months in 2018.

The NFA said palay procurement was mostly done in Central Luzon, Southern Tagalog and Cagayan Valley regions.

“We try to accommodate all farmers who sell their harvest. We have 642 buying stations which are strategically located across the country to accept their produce,” said NFA Administrator Judy Carol Dansal.

Aside from the stationary buying stations, the agency deploys mobile procurement in areas such as Ilocos Sur, Kalinga, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Batangas, Camarines Norte, Masbate, Sorsogon, Antique, Southern Leyte, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Sur, Pagadian, Ipil, Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte, Dipolog, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao del Sur, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Lanao del Norte, and Maguindanao. 

In the House, congressional leaders said they want to provide immediate relief to rice farmers who are reeling from declining farmgate prices for palay, buy authorizing the government to buy locally grown palay and by providing them with cash transfers.

“Both chambers of the Congress can do their part in helping President Duterte provide succor to small farmers affected by declining palay prices by passing a pending measure that would let the Executive

Department use excess rice import tariff collections for an unconditional cash transfer (UCT) program for rice farmers and another one that would enable Malacañang to buy palay from local planters for use in the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program) rice subsidy program,” Deputy Speaker Luis Raymund Villafuerte said.

Under the 4Ps program administered by the Department of Social Welfare and Development, a rice subsidy is given to beneficiary-families in the form of cash.

Under Villafuerte’s proposal, the subsidy would be given in rice in lieu of cash. With Maricel V. Cruz and PNA

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Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , William Dar , Salvador Panelo , Rice Tariffication Law , Department of Agriculture
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