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Duterte still wants rice importation suspended

PIGCAWAYAN, Cotabato, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte has again said he would order the suspension of rice importations to help rice farmers struggling with low palay prices due to foreign competition following the implementation of the rice tariffication law.

Speaking to peasant leaders and government employees from the Soccsksargen region here on Friday, Duterte said he would leave it to Agriculture Secretary William Dar “to make the projections (and) timeline of when to import and when not to import.”

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But he added: “When it is nearing harvest time, on that period, importation will stop.”

“And then,” he said, “I will buy what you worked hard for. I told Secretary [Dar] that if we lose [because] the price [of palay] from the people is high, buy it still. If we lose, then we lose.”

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Margin of safety

Duterte pointed to the need to always have “a margin of (safety of rice inventory)” in timing the suspension and resumption of rice purchases from abroad.

“If people see there [is enough inventory of] rice, they would be confident they will not go hungry,” he said.

After he signed Republic Act No. 11203, or the rice tarrification law, in February last year, the President on several occasions said he would suspend rice importations during the harvest season and buy palay even at prices that would result in losses for the government.

But just days after he last said he would suspend rice importation on Nov. 19 last year, he backtracked and instead called for ramping up palay purchases and giving cash subsidies to small farmers.

He had changed his mind after meeting with Dar, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, his economic manager, and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.

‘Folly’

He then explained that it “would be folly” to stop importations just because of projected rice production but never knowing the extent of damage to crops that typhoons might bring.

At the Pigcawayan meeting, the President asked the farmers to give the law a chance to succeed.

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“Let me assure you that in the long run, this measure will not only help strengthen our economy, but also provide new opportunities for your sector,” he said.

He promised that the government would hold regular consultations with farmers “in order to determine your needs” and invest in infrastructure, such as farm-to-market roads, irrigation systems, farm equipment and other tools to raise rice production.

Better seeds

He also said the government was developing better seeds and the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Food Authority were working to ensure the distribution of rice to the beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.

Duterte urged farmers to take advantage of the government training programs meant to improve their skills and their production with help from the DA, the Department of Science and Technology, and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority would help them.

The rice tarrification law replaced quantitative restrictions on rice imports with tariffs.

It also created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which would raise P10 billion a year from rice tariffs, to help farmers modernize and become more competitive.

Detrimental to farmers

The law was aimed at making the staple affordable to consumers but has resulted in the influx of cheap imports that plunged local rice prices to levels detrimental to farmers.

With quotas lifted, the Philippines became the world’s biggest rice importer last year with a record importation of 3 million metric tons.

As imports grew, the average buying price for palay fell to as low as P11 to P14 per kilogram in November last year.

Sagip Saka Act

Sen. Francis Pangilinan on Saturday urged the administration to implement the Sagip Saka Act, or RA 11321, to help struggling rice farmers.

The law institutionalizes a Farmers and Fisherfolk Enterprise Development Program to ensure that the agriculture and fisheries industry are productive.

It would provide skills development, production inputs, equipment and facilities, and infrastructure for production and postproduction activities.

He said two major farmers’ groups — the Alyansa Agrikultura and the Federation of Free Farmers — have warned of lower rice production because many farmers were unwilling to grow rice due the continuing decline of palay prices.

Pangilinan said a faster and effective implementation of RA 11321 would bring direct benefits to farmers and fisherfolk “and encourage them to continue feeding us.” —With a report from Leila B. Salaverria

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TAGS: rice farmers, rice importation, Rice Tariffication Law, Rodrigo Duterte
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