Walang krisis sa bigas.
[There is no rice crisis.]
A rice monitoring group made this statement in a press conference Monday morning after the National Food Authority declared that their supply of NFA rice is running low.
Bantay Bigas and Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas slammed the NFA for opting to import rice in place of buying from local farmers.
The NFA Council approved the importation of 250,000 metric tons of rice for NFA buffer stock today.
‘No Food Authority’ to hasten rice importation
Despite giving assurances that there is no rice shortage, the NFA continues to receive flak due to rising prices of commercial stocks.
Commercial rice varieties range from P47-P55 per kilo, while NFA rice, with prices ranging from P27-P32 per kilo, is unavailable in some marketplaces.
The group noted that it is ironic that the NFA would import rice to alleviate the rice shortage when the first harvest season of the year is fast approaching.
Calling the NFA the ‘No Food Authority’, Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair Danilo Ramos said that the government agency orchestrated the rice shortage to justify rice importation.
In June 2017, the government lifted qualitative restriction of rice imports and instead placed tariffs on rice imports as compliance to its membership in the World Trade Organization. Provisions in the WTO – Agreement on Agriculture necessitates the country’s importation of rice from countries such as Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“It is not true that Filipinos would go hungry if the government would not import rice. Rice importation has been hurting the local rice industry and the farmers, and has caused the consistent upward trend of rice prices ever since the country started importing rice massively in 1995,” he said.
A ‘death warrant’ to farmers
Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo further denounced the government’s policy of rice importation amid local farmers’ demands to procure rice from their farms, saying that this spells a ‘death warrant’ to peasants earning barely enough because of high production costs.
The NFA has earlier said that they could not buy from local farmers because they cannot afford farmgate prices ranging from P19 to P22 per kilogram. The NFA’s buying price is at P17 per kilogram.
“Ensuring the country’s food security is the state’s responsibility to its people. However, instead of increasing local palay production and boosting the NFA’s local palay procurement, Pres. Duterte, like his predecessors, chose to depend on importation without a second thought,” she said.
Doable solutions to the ‘rice problem’
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas presented what they deemed as immediate doable solutions that the Duterte government can apply to address the issues concerning the rice industry:
- Immediate price control on rice products;
- Junking of the police of rice importation;
- Development of the rice industry by the government by extending production support, post-harvest facilities, and other assistance to rice farmers;
- Procurement by the NFA of rice from local rice farmers at a beneficial price;
- Implementation of an accelerated free irrigation program that would irrigate the remaining 43% non-irrigated rice and farmlands across the country;
- Terminating massive land-use conversion that converts rice and farmlands to other uses like real estate and private businesses;
- Implementing a genuine agrarian reform program that will distribute lands to the tillers at no cost, provide state support to land reform beneficiaries, and spur agricultural production and rural industrialization;
- Imposing price control on rice prices;
- Terminating the liberalization of the rice industry;
- Terminating the operation of the rice cartel; and
- Development and support of peasant cooperatives.
Peace talks and socio-economic reforms
Anakpawis representative Ariel Casilao also challenged the Duterte government to push through with the peace talks between the government (GRP) and the left (represented by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines or NDFP).
“Ang Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms (CASER) ang siyang maglalatag ng solusyon sa kinakaharap nating problema sa bigas. Itong usapin ng NFA rice shortage, itong usapin ng nagmamahalang presyo ng bigas, ang CASER ang siyang magbibigay ng matagalang solusyon. Hindi bibitawan ng uring anakpawis ang panawagang bumalik ang gobyerno at ang NDFP sa usapang pangkapayapaan,” he said.
(The Comprehensive Agreement on Socio-Economic Reforms [CASER)] will lay the groundwork in addressing the problems we face regarding the rice industry. The issue of NFA’s rice shortage and rising prices of rice will be confronted in the long-term by the CASER. The toiling class will hold on to its call of getting the government and the NDFP back to the negotiating table.)
The GRP-NDF peace panels were on their way to tackling socio-economic reforms as the second substantive agenda in the peace negotiations, particularly on agrarian reform and rural development (ARRD).
In November last year, Pres. Duterte signed Proclamation 360, declaring the government’s termination of the GRP-NDF peace negotiations.