Days before the anniversary of President Rodrigo Duterte’s signing of RA 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law, farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) declared that the current administration’s real legacy in agriculture is the destruction of the local rice industry. “No matter what Duterte says and intends, his administration will be remembered by farmers as the one which allowed unlimited rice imports and drowned local rice producers and farmers to bankruptcy,” Anakpawis President and KMP Chairman Emeritus Rafael Mariano declares.
“Official numbers and estimates already reveal the gross over-importation which was mandated by the unlimited rice importation policy. The real situation is worse however when we consider smuggling, hoarding, cartel, and other monopolist operations,” Mariano laments.
The Philippines imported an unprecedented 3 million metric tons (MMT) of rice last year, which is 1 MMT more than what the country needed to import. Filipino rice farmers produced 12 MMT of rice last year while consumption was at 14 MMT. The Philippines became the world’s top rice importer in 2019, beating even China, the country with the largest population in the world at 1.4 billion, up to 14 times larger than the Philippines’. Smuggling and undervaluation has also risen which has compelled DA to launch investigations. Mariano says that “the government has been too hard-handed and harsh with poor farmers but too gentle and caring when it comes to smugglers.”
The farmgate price of palay has since then dropped. As of November 2019, official records of per kilo of palay is at P15.55, dropping from September 2018’s P23.14/kilo rate. Mariano points out that “even P15/kilo translates to just P3/kilo of profit; which most rice farmers will still have to share with a debtor and a landlord. Still, the actual price of palay has dropped as low as or even lower than the breakeven price of P12/kilo in some places.” In contrast, the National Food Authority is mandated to buy palay at P19/kilo. “When indebtedness and bankruptcy is the norm in agriculture, then it becomes clear why more and more rural youth opt out of farming,” Mariano comments.
“All this suffering imposed on the rice farmer was made with the promise of providing the people with the “greater good” of lower rice prices,” Mariano reminds. The price of regular milled rice however has never reached the P29/kilo promise by the proponents of rice liberalization. Mariano says that “the rice cartel is making a killing — they cut costs by buying cheap imports and profit huge by maintaining high prices, all the while rice farmers face bankruptcy and hunger, and rice consumers continue to tighten belts.” Even small businessmen in the local rice industry were affected as 4,000 rice mills were compelled to close last year.
“In short, everyone loses except the rice cartel and compradors who monopolize the rice trade. The whole nation’s capacity to produce its own food is severely undermined and we are made to depend upon unreliable imports. The future of our rice industry has long been grim but Duterte’s RLL has just made it worse,” Mariano concludes.
KMP will join the February 14 nationally-coordinated protest actions against the RA 11203 to demand the junking of the rice liberalization policy. ###