Seven months into its passing, and nearing the crucial time of harvest, the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) or more aptly termed Rice Liberalization Law has proven to be nothing but a farce, justifying the intense opposition and calls for its repeal. Coming from the disastrous effects of El Nino early this year, small farmers are hoping that the second cropping season would alleviate their meager incomes. However, rice farmers are lamenting the abysmal farmgate price of palay (unmilled rice), which has significantly plummeted to as low as Php 7 per kilo, seriously affecting the incomes and livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Promises of making rice affordable to most Filipinos have failed, as retail prices of well milled rice is pegged at Php 44 a kilo.
Signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte last February in compliance with the Philippines’ commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Republic Act 11203 removes the quantitative restrictions (QRs) and instead implements a 35% tariff on imported products such rice. At present, the deluge of cheap, imported and conventionally grown (chemical-intensive) rice is creating a more uneven competition with the local rice producers.
Farmers, in separate interviews, have expressed their disappointment and dwindling interest in rice farming, forcing them to find other means of livelihood or giving up their land to avoid bankruptcy. Interests are at play, as Senator Cynthia Villar, the lead proponent of the Rice Liberalizaton Law, is behind real estate giant Camella Homes, which has been known to convert huge tracts of agricultural land for their subdivisons and malls, and the second biggest contractor of rice imports.
Instead of admitting its failure and repealing the act, Villar and the Department of Agriculture has been putting forward nonsensical propositions, including the Php 15,000 loan assistance to affected farmers particularly in Central Luzon. The Php 10 billion supposed income from the tariffs that will go to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) is very negligible compared to the losses brought about by the rice liberalization law, and will likely be a source of corruption while the farmers are driven further to bankruptcy and poverty.
To fully achieve rice and food self-sufficiency and security, appropriate support must be given to the farmers, including better farming alternatives such as sustainable agriculture.
Chemical-based rice farming, considered as the conventional farming system in the country introduced by the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) Green Revolution, entails a high cost of production, draining farmers of capital for decades. Farmers have to buy inputs such as seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides every cropping season. The declining prices of palay due to RTL coupled with the natural calamities such as El Nino or strong typhoons affecting the farmers’ harvest, will further bankrupt the farmers.
On the other hand, the practice of sustainable agriculture ensures a lower cost of production translating to better net income for the farmers. The practice of seed saving and improvement, diversified and integrated farming, and organic rice production provide advantages for MASIPAG farmers, as these allow them control and sovereignty over the resources in producing food. Farmer incomes siphoned by rice cartels can be countered through local and PO-led processing and marketing of their produce. As sustainable agriculture is tightly intertwined with farmers’ access and ownership to land, farmer rights to land should likewise be promoted and upheld. Thus, local agricultural development and food security will only succeed if policies are putting needs and aspirations of millions of small farmers at the center.
However, with the further imposition of agricultural liberalization, land use conversion and corporate domination, all of these initiatives will be deemed worthless.
Thus, MASIPAG joins the various farmers’ networks in calling for the repeal of RA 11203. MASIPAG believes that rice and food security can be achieved not by liberalizing our agriculture, but by building the capacity of our farmers and providing appropriate support for our food production. Agricultural development must be done to serve the needs of the people and the nation, and not the interest of the local elites and their transnational masters.
Junk the Rice Tariffication Law now!