ALI G. MACABALANG
Long ignored by the Duterte cabinet people, clamors for a review of the controversial Rice Tariffication Law (R.A. 11203) have finally gained potential relief in the Senate, particularly Senator Manny Pacquiao.
Meanwhile, the Bangsamoro autonomous government, according to its spokesman lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, has allocated at least P500-million to help cushion the ill effects of RTL on farmers by buying palay or rice directly from farms.
In a recent virtual press conference participated in by the Philippine Muslim Today, spokesman Sinarombo, who is concurrent regional Local Government minister, announced the allocation in apparent corroboration of farmers’ cry about their sufferings in the RTL implementation.
The provincial board of North Cotabato is also rallying the farmers’ clamor, following its passage of a resolution authored by Board Member Maria Krista Piñol-Solis, one of two physician daughters of the MinDA chief, to push for a review and amendment of the controversial law.
Board member Piñol-Solis in her resolution explained that due to the flooding of local markets with imported rice, palay prices dived from P20/21 per kilo to as low as P11.
The RTL, enacted in February this year, removed the cap placed on imported rice entering the Philippines to stabilize purportedly the prices of the staple grain in local markets. It created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), a P10-billion annual allocation to help farmers cope with the influx of imported rice during the first 6 years of its implementation.
The RCEF was supposed to be spent for: Rice farm machinery and equipment (50%); Mechanization program, rice seed development, propagation, and promotion (30%); Expanded rice credit assistance (10%); and Credit Program and rice extension services (10%).
Sen. Pacquiao has filed on Oct. 26 a resolution urging the Senate to investigate the implementation of the RTL and its enabling P10-billion fund, saying farmers groups have been suffering from the “dramatic decline” of the price of palay (rice with husk).
He noted in Senate Resolution No. 554 that before the implementation of the law, “the farm gate price of palay was averaged at P21.39 per kilo; but after imported rice started flooding the market, it instantly dropped to P17.88 per kilo.”
“When the measure was presented and explained to me, I was assured that our farmers will not be left behind…Pero kung papakinggan mo ang ating mga magsasaka, talagang halos umiiyak na sila dahil sa baba ng presyo ng palay,” Pacquiao said in an earlier statement.
Some farmers from Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Sorsogon, Tarlac and Laguna even lamented the influx of unlimited rice imports forced them to sell their harvest for P7 to P10 per kilo, the senator said.
On Oct. 31, Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chairman Manny Piñol travelled at night to Gen. Santos City to meet Senator Pacquiao and provide him more inputs in support of his resolution.
“As the former Secretary of Agriculture and a farmer myself, I have a deep understanding of the flaws of the RTL and the improvements which could be made to ensure that our rice farmers are not injured,” Sec. Piñol said in a post.
Sec. Pinol enumerated in his Facebook post these five recommendations to Sen. Pacquiao:
1. Rice imports should only be at a volume needed to fill the supply shortfall;
2. An adjustable tariff schedule should be implemented so that when there is an oversupply, the tariff could be increased to levels where importing rice would not be profitable.
3. The President should be given the power to increase rice import tariffs even when Congress is in session. The current RTL virtually ties the hands of the President.
4. The apportionment of the RCE Funds should be amended to prioritize the four most important factors to improve productivity – irrigation, fertilization, post-harvest facilities, especially dryers and hybrid or high yielding seeds.
5. The provision which emasculates the National Food Authority and turns it into a simple rice buffer stocking agency should be revisited. The government must never surrender its regulatory powers over a very important commodity, rice.
The five recommendations “were the issues that I and other key officials of DA, the PCAF and farmer stakeholders raised during the Senate deliberation on their version of the RT bill but our voices were drowned out,” Piñol said.
“Now that the farmers are crying, we hope they (lawmakers and cabinet people) will heed the proposal of Sen. Pacquiao for a review of the RTL. After all, laws are made for the welfare and well-being of the people,” he averred.
It was learned that Senator Cynthia Villar and Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, among other supporters of the then proposed RTL, had figured in heated arguments with then Agriculture Sec. Piñol.
According to reports reaching the MPT, Sec. Pinol resigned as DA secretary after President Duterte sided with the camp of Villar and Dominguez in the deliberation of RTL.
Sen. Pacquiao was among the RTL co-authors. But in his recent statement, he sounded a kind of regret. (AGM)