BY RUDY D. LIPORADA
Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia who also heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) said last Nov. 19, 2019, that the Rice Tariffication Law is for the “greater good”. He means that although the Filipino farmers are bound to suffer depleted or loss of income due to the drop of their price produce in competition with imported rice prices without or relaxed tariff restrictions, this is good for the greater number of Filipinos.
This is pure hogwash and baloney.
For being the socioeconomic planning czar anchored on a largely statistics-based institution, how could Pernia miss the statistic that 75% of the Philippines are peasants, are farmers – that since the Philippines is largely an agricultural country, most of the population of the Islands are in the countrysides? To be emphatic, is there any strata in the Philippines greater than the 75% peasants? The whole country is under the control of the 1% landlord class. Another 1 to 2% are huge entrepreneurs and 7-8% are in the middle class. The only second largest strata following the peasants are of the workers which is 15% of the population.
As the Inquirer reports, “Republic Act No. 11203, which Mr. Duterte signed in February, imposes tariffs on imported rice in lieu of quotas, resulting in imported grain flooding the domestic market.
“With quotas lifted, the Philippines has become the world’s biggest rice importer and is on track to rack up a record 3 million metric tons of the staple by the end of the year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
“As imports grew, the average buying price for palay (unhusked rice) hit P15.49 a kilogram in October—the lowest in eight years.
“But government records showed that major rice-producing provinces like Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Tarlac, and Cagayan had it worse, with palay selling for P11 to P14 per kg.
“In San Fabian, members of the Aramal-Tocok Federation of Free Farmers Multipurpose Cooperative (FFFMPC) said the average farmgate price of newly harvested palay in the province had dropped from P15 to P13 per kg.
“With P13 as the average production cost of palay, the farmers said they found it hard to recoup their losses.
“The group noted that rice farmers could sell their harvest up to P24 per kg before the rice tariffication law took effect in March.
“Saturnino Distor, Aramal-Tocok FFFMPC president, blamed the law for the plunging palay prices because it allowed cheap imported rice to flood the local market.”This plunged the produce of local farmers to as close as 50%. With this, farmers echo one of them saying “if the government continues to ignore our plight, many local farmers will be forced to stop planting [rice].”
In order to lighten the burden of the farmers, the government, through Agriculture Secretary William Dar, is scrambling to find solutions to the farmers’ woes – rushing to subsidize their sales, promise to give back to the farmers a percentage of the tariff collections from imported and other programs.
But these are only for the short run. Whatever fund available, according to the Inquirer, “however, is dwarfed by the P61.8 billion in losses that farmers have incurred so far due to the sharp drop in farmgate prices of palay. The Philippine Rice Research Institute estimated the losses.”
The drastic drop in the farmers’ sales has obvious consequences on their economic lives and would be immediate. Their daily subsistence, property livelihood, education of their children, etc. would be life-changing to the worse.
Already protests among the farmers’ ranks have erupted. The Inquirer reported that “In Pangasinan province, more than 50 farmers in San Fabian town on Wednesday held a rally in front of the municipal agriculture office to seek help from the government as the price of palay continued to fall. Seventy farmers also staged a protest in Sariaya, Quezon province, blocking a section of the Maharlika Highway.”
There should be more protests forthcoming. Grumbling stomachs should not be far behind.
Knowing the Duterte regime, the reaction should also not be far from behind. Red tagging the leaders of the farmers, shooting them in the cold blood would be the dire consequences.
Moreover, it would not be surprising if the farmers would soon heed the clarion call of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) to join the revolution as the only solution to their woes. After all, it is in the program of the CPP-NPA that the bulk of the NPA would come from the peasantry – the most exploited class in the Philippines.
Once again, the CPP-NPA will be blamed for causing the social and economic ills of the Philippines. The government will brush away that the precipitating reason this time is that there were those in the government who evolved the Rice Tariffication Law.
I am thinking that those who are implementing the tariff collections could dip their hands in the tariff coffers. After all, that’s how corruption syndrome is – forget the people so long as their pockets could be lined.
And so, NEDA Chief Pernia’s definition of “for the greater good” is really myopic. # nordis.net