THE Rice Tariffication Law, Republic Act 11203, has effectively kept rice prices down for consumers by assuring ample supplies in the market.
For years, the government, through the National Food Authority (NFA), limited rice importations by requiring importers to get permits to import, so as to protect Filipino rice farmers from being overwhelmed by the cheap rice imports. When prices started zooming up in 2018, the government sought to stop the unprecedented inflation by various means. As rice is the principal item in Filipino families’ marketing expenses, the government rightly decided to bring down rice prices and the rest of market goods would follow.
With the Rice Tariffication Law, importers no longer need permits from the NFA. Anyone can now import rice as long as he pays the required tariffs. Thus cheap rice has come in great quantities from Vietnam and Thailand whose farmers somehow can produce it at much lower cost than Filipino farmers.
The Rice Tariffication Law has indeed lowered the market price of rice, but it has also severely reduced the income of Filipino farmers. Where they used to earn an average of P20 per kilo of palay, they got paid only P17.85 in the last week of June. And yet, the farmers said, through the Federation of Free Farmers, market prices have been steady. They suspect price manipulation by rice traders, with importers undervaluing their shipments so as to pay lower taxes.
Secretary of Agriculture Emmanuel Piñol has proposed to remedy the situation by having the government buy the farmers’ harvests at competitive prices, even if it means losses for the government.
This would be a short-term solution. A more permanent one would be for the government to help Filipino farmers lower their production costs. This could be done by helping them in acquiring seeds of high-yielding rice varieties and in purchasing fertilizer and other needs, by increased mechanization of agriculture, by more irrigation facilities, by providing more post-harvest facilities like storage and milling, and by helping them in marketing.
For generations, many Filipino farmers depended on the help of their landlords, but that is all past with land reform. Government must step in and provide that help that is no longer there and, more important, launch a program to modernize Philippine agriculture in all its aspects, on all its levels, and in all its phases from land preparation to planting to marketing.
The key to all this is funding. Outgoing Secretary Piñol says this was not available in sufficient amounts in the last three years, as the government focused on infrastructure and other urgent needs. In the next three years of the Duterte administration, it should give Philippine agriculture the attention that it truly deserves as the center of Philippine life and economy.