Leading the group in its call, Ka Trinidad Domingo, chairperson of Katipunan ng mga Bagong Pilipina (KBP) and co-convenor of the NMFS from Nueva Ecija expressed the fears of small rice farmers in the country that the law will lead to early bankruptcy of rice farmers and the demise of the rice industry. Ka Trining claimed that the massive entry of rice imports in the country five months after the enactment of the law has already driven current prices of palay to below  the cost of production, currently  pegged by the Philippine Statistics Authority at P12/kg. Ka Trining exclaims, “You don’t expect rice farmers and their families to survive at the current farmgate price of P8- P12/kg, which is already reduced by more than half from its price of P20 – P24/kg in August of last year?” Indeed based on reports by NMFS members in Nueva Ecija, a growing number of rice farmers are already selling their ricelands.

The Rice Tariffication Act or Republic Act 11203 lifted the quantitative restrictions on rice imports and imposed 35% tariff on rice coming from ASEAN countries and 50% for those from outside ASEAN. According to Sen. Villar, the principal author of the Rice Tarriffication Act, the law serves as the full compliance of the Philippines to its commitments to the World Trade Organization (WTO).

However, the National Movement for Food Sovereignty claims that the Philippine government could have stood firmly to exempt rice from all-out trade liberalization as it remains a key food security crop and crucial to the livelihoods of 2.4 million farmers. Under the Doha Round of trade negotiations, there have been efforts by developing countries led by the Philippines to exempt food security crops from further trade liberalization. Ka Manuel Rosario, Chairperson of PKSK and co-convenor of NMFS added that the law does not seek to secure the country’s food security but promotes and protects the interests of big exporters and traders in the country as well as the agenda of economic managers to “stabilize” inflation to ease off worries of bankers and lenders.

While the Rice Tariffication Acts boasts of assistance to rice farmers that are affected by the liberalization of rice trade, the so-called 10-billion peso Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) will be funded out of the tariffs to be collected from the rice imports. But NMFS argues that the P10 billion fund is not even sufficient to pay for the losses that will be incurred by farmers. A farmer that harvested 3.5 tons at P20/kg with gross sales of P70,000 in 2018 will have only a gross sales of P42,000 at P12/kg price of palay this cropping. Cost of production in 2019 is around P40,000 – P50,000/hectare according to PSA. Hence losses for this cropping alone for the 2.4 million farmers would reach as high as P67 billion.

Moreover, NMFS argues that the law stripped the National Food Authority (NFA) of its regulatory functions such as import licensing, quedan franchising, inspection and anti-hoarding powers, registration of grains traders and operators, collection of related fees and charges, control over exports and food security regulation. According to NMFS, the NFA’s core function of stabilizing prices for rice and palay to ensure food security and fair price for farmers is removed and now reduced to mere buffer stocking.

Dr. Rene Ofreneo, President of the Integrated Rural Development Foundation explained that the removal of  NFA’s core functions has stripped the government of  an important tool to secure the food security of the Filipino people. Dean Ofreneo further adds, “While the issues of corruption and inefficiencies in NFA are real, these can be solved with the right political will, however, abolishing  NFA’s mandate meant to support the Filipino farmers, in effect, bares the insensitivity of policy-makers to the plight of poor farmers.  Government should have increased palay procurement capacity of NFA in order for the agency to absorb at the minimum 10% of the country’s palay production. Palay procurement for the past decades has hovered only at 1-3% of the total volume of palay harvested.”

Arze Glipo, convenor of the National Movement for Food Sovereignty (NMFS) added that removing the last remaining albeit limited support that Filipino rice farmers have in the form of quantitative restrictions (QR) would be the last straw for a long-neglected and ailing rice industry. She said that the all-out liberalization, deregulation, and privatization of rice importation in the country will displace millions of rice farmers, rice millers, and other sectors benefiting from  the rice value chain. She warns further that if no drastic measure is done immediately to save rice farmers from bankruptcy, the country will witness massive conversion of rice farms, which can seriously endanger the country’s long-term food security.

With the impacts of RTA being felt country-wide, NMFS thus calls for the  following:

  1. Immediate suspension of the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Act and a stop to rice importation as the harvest season for palay comes in.
  2. Review and repeal of the Rice Tariffication Act and engage the WTO in negotiations for continued exemption of rice as a key food security crop of the country.
  3. For the Bureau of Customs, Philippine Statistics Authority and the Department of Agriculture to disclose information on the volume of rice imports that came in.
  4. For the Department of Agriculture to provide emergency cash assistance to rice farmers to offset the losses from the reduction of palay prices.
  5. For the relevant agencies such as the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate rice importers, hoarders and traders engaged in manipulation of rice stocks and prices.
  6. For the National Food Authority (NFA) to buy fresh palay from farmers, provide drying and warehousing facilities and procure at P20/kg covering at the minimum 10% of the total palay production in the country.
  7. For the DA, NFA, local governments and farmer associations to enter into marketing partnership to expand palay procurement from farmers.
  8. To put in place a comprehensive subsidy program for small rice farmers prioritizing cheap credit, input subsidies, crop insurance, drying and milling facilities and price support.