By Manny F. Piñol, PhD, MinDA Chairman
Proponents of unimpeded importation and market liberalization, especially on rice, have always argued that the interest of consumers, by their greater number, should be paramount over that of local farmers.
“This is a No-Brainer, 105-million consumers versus 5-million farmers,” was the line often repeated when we clashed on the issue of the unimpeded importation of rice when I was the Agriculture Secretary.
Flooding the market with imported commodities to stabilize consumer prices and address inflation actually inflicts serious socio-economic injuries on Filipino food producers, especially poor farming families.
While imported food items such as rice, pork and chicken may indeed cost less for the consumers, massive and unimpeded importation deprives local producers of benefits from activities involved in the whole production chain.
It has serious social and economic implications.
During the distribution of land titles to former militant sugarcane workers in Sagay, Negros Occidental in 2018, I brought up to President Duterte the proposal of the economic managers to allow the unimpeded importation of sugar.
I told the President that liberalizing the sugar industry just to bring down the prices of candies and other sweetened products would adversely affect the livelihood of former militant farmers who owned land for the first time.
Without a viable income, the former militant farmers could sell their farm lots again to the former owners and the social unrest could start all over again.
Wala pa akong narinig na consumer who took up an M-14 rifle to go to the mountains to rebel dahil tumaas ng P20 ang kilo ng karne ng baboy.
Pero ang karamihan sa mga nag rebelde ay dating mga magsasaka at manggagawa who because of the lack of support from government and difficulties in life joined the New People’s Army.
Rebellion and social unrest require massive resources of government to address and result in the loss of countless lives.
Importing agricultural goods is an accepted market practice to stabilize consumer prices but it should only be enough to fill up a production shortfall.
Government, instead, should provide interventions to increase local production because the benefits would be felt by everybody involved in the whole production chain.
With the country’s economy in a very bad shape because of the COVID 19 Pandemic, the wisest thing that our economic policy makers could do is to focus on local production to create economic activities, open income opportunities and provide jobs for millions of families in the rural areas.