By Mark Saludes
Farmers in the Philippines have voiced anger over a new law liberalizing the importation of rice, saying it directly threatens local rice production. The Peasant Movement of the Philippines described the law as “a death sentence for the local rice industry and farmers.”
Danilo Ramos, chairman of the farmers’ organization, claimed the lives of about 13.5 million Filipino rice farmers, 17.5 million farm workers, 20,000 rice retailers, and 55,000 rice mill workers would be seriously effected.
“It’s the beginning of the end of the local rice industry,” said Ramos, adding the local rice industry will not stand a chance against rice imports, despite financial support from the government.
Bishop Arturo Bastes of Sorsogon supported the farmers, saying that with cheaper imported rice flooding the market, young Filipinos will never become farmers. “They have already lost the desire because of extreme poverty. Now, because of unregulated rice importation, no one would want to plant rice in our own land,” the prelate said.
Bishop Bastes said the new law would only force the Philippines to become dependent on neighboring countries for a staple food. “That law will make us a weaker and poorer country because our farmers are being neglected,” he said.
The new law will impose taxes instead of limiting the amount of imported rice entering the country. It will enforce a 35-percent tariff on rice importations from Southeast Asian states and 50 percent on imports from countries that are not members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
Food security advocates have also opposed the law, warning against its effects on local rice production.
Renmin Crisanta Vizconde, executive director of the Philippine Network of Food Security Programmes, said the law would not reduce the high price of rice and other agricultural commodities. She said the law “favors rice cartels, traders and capitalists” even as farmers suffer “due to extreme and unprecedented economic instability.”
Independent think-tank, the Ibon Foundation, noted that Filipino farmers are unproductive and local rice is expensive “because of long-standing government neglect.” In recent years, the government has allocated no more than five percent of the national budget to agriculture.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration allotted about US$951 million for the Agriculture Department or 1.3 percent of the national budget for 2019.