Undermining self-sufficiency, Agri exec hits Neda, DBM over rice policyBy DJ Yap
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—An official assistant of the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Friday lashed out at other agencies, including the National Economic Development Authority (Neda), for their proposals that purportedly undermine the government’s rice self-sufficiency program.
Assistant Secretary Dante Delima, the national coordinator of the DA’s “Agri-Pinoy Rice Program,” assailed the lobbying made by the Neda and the Department of Budget and Management for the abolition of the National Food Authority (NFA), and for the lifting of restrictions on rice imports.
“If people from the Neda, and the DBM are so set against our dream of rice self-sufficiency, perhaps we should just continue this program at the DA. While we are trying so hard to attain our dream of rice self-sufficiency, they now want to abolish the NFA,” he told a crowd of agricultural officers at Camelot Hotel in Quezon City.
Turning angry and emotional, Delima said he had had enough of trying to be respectful to officials of other agencies, whom he declined to name but, in an interview with reporters later, he described them as Cabinet-level officials.
He said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala was not aware of his plans to speak out, and that he was prepared to face consequences, including dismissal from service.
“They have no hearts for those of us on the ground… What they’re doing is a political suicide,” he said referring to the actions taken by the agencies to remove the so-called QR, or the temporary qualitative restrictions on cheap imported rice.
Delima said the removal of the QR would result in cheap rice from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia flooding the local markets and driving Filipino farmers out of business.
“If we are being hurt by rice smuggling now, what more if smuggling were legalized? Imagine it’s already legal if cheap rice were to flood our market. What will happen to our farmers? And now they even want to add to our problems with the abolition of the NFA and the QR,” he said to cheers from the audience.
“What sort of government service is that? Don’t they have any conscience? They are being paid by taxpayers’ money. I don’t know about them but I feed my family from just my salary from the DA,” said Delima, who cried at various times during his speech.
Delima said the DA was pushing temporary qualitative restrictions precisely so imported rice would not flood the markets “because we want to prepare our farmers first.”
“I know our president supports rice sufficiency. But the people there sitting in other agencies are against what the President wants. What do they mean? That they are more powerful than the President?” he said.
Delima said he understood the desire to lower the prices of commodities, but this should not be done at the expense of rice farmers.
What farmers need
“Who would not be happy about lower prices? But the problem is those who will suffer are the majority. How many are working to till the soil? How many are planting rice? If we sum up the numbers of rice farmers and those who depend on them, that will amount to 10-15 million Filipinos,” he said.
What Filipino farmers need, he said, is for government to improve irrigation, build roads, and to improve technologies and facilities such as driers and millers to make them competitive against neighboring rice-exporting countries.
“They want imported rice to just flood markets. They said we should just raise taxes. Do they think we are insane? They know we know we can’t just raise tariff under the WTO-GATT (World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), which is intended to remove these tariffs over time,” he said.
“How do we compete against Thailand? Vietnam? How much is rice in their countries? Only about P20, or P18 [per kilo]. If that rice floods our markets, what happens to us?” Delima asked.