Cotabato governor calls on Congress to amend rice importation law
COTABATO CITY, Maguindanao, Philippines — Cotabato Gov. Nancy Catamco has called on Congress to review and amend the rice tariffication law, or Republic Act No. 11203, blaming it for the steep drop in palay prices in her province, one of the leading rice producers in Mindanao.
Catamco, a former member of the House of Representatives, said local rice farmers had been complaining of the “very, very low farm-gate prices [of palay, or unmilled rice]” and they desperately needed support from national legislators “to correct a flawed legislation, which allows the unhampered entry of imported rice” into the country.
The rice tariffication law was implemented beginning March last year, doing away with quantitative limits to imports of the staple crop while setting higher tariffs, the proceeds of which go into the rice competitiveness enhancement fund to support the local rice industry.
But instead of helping the local rice industry, farmers “are suffering from the adverse effects of unlimited importation of rice,” said Catamco, who faced farmer leaders in a dialogue on Friday after a peaceful protest rally in Mlang town.
She said that in abiding by the country’s commitments to the World Trade Organization, the government “must not jeopardize the welfare of the millions of Filipino rice farmers who depend on the industry.”
Farmer Gualberto Sison lamented how life has become so difficult for his family when imported rice displaced them from the market.
“The prices of face masks is higher compared to the price of palay,” said Sison, who works in a 2-hectare rice farm. Private traders buy palay at P9.50 to P11 per kilo, and a face mask sells for P20 apiece.
While the National Food Authority (NFA) buys palay at P17 to P19 per kilo, another farmer, Solima Lim, said many of them could not avail themselves of government procurement and were forced to sell to traders who gave them loans for farm inputs.
Mindanao has about 1.2 million hectares of rice farms, generating more than 350,000 jobs with annual wages valued at P42 billion.
In Albay, another rice-producing province, palay buying stations have been set up in two towns where farmers can sell their produce for P19 per kilo.
Rep. Fernando Cabredo said he was assured by the NFA in Albay that it had the funds to buy palay at P19 per kilo at its stations in Libon town and Ligao City.
“The absence of rice buying stations [in other areas] compels farmers to sell their palay to rice traders who in turn take advantage of the situation by manipulating and dictating the buying price of palay,” he said.
Farmers have wanted to sell their produce directly to the NFA but they are discouraged because the agency requires palay to be clean and dry, and doing so would mean additional cost for them.
Cabredo, quoting a report from the NFA, said the agency could still accept palay that were still wet and unclean because of the absence of warehouses and drying facilities in Bicol.
He said he had also asked the Department of Agriculture to provide more postharvest facilities like rice processing centers, dryers and multipurpose drying pavement to rice farmers, more farm-to-market roads and transportation assistance.
—Edwin O. Fernandez and Mar Arguelles