MANILA, Philippines – A United States agency report reveals that the Philippines has become the world’s biggest importer of rice, just months after the rice tariffication bill was enacted.
The US Department of Agriculture – Foreign Agricultural Service report also projected that the Philippines will have imported a total of 3-million metric tons of rice before the year ends.
This is 58% higher compared to the 1.9-million metric tons of rice that the country imported in 2018.
The Philippine reportedly outranked China – the biggest rice importer– which is expected to import 2.5 metric tons of rice.
The Department of Agriculture record, however, said that this early, the Philippines has already imported 2.99 million metric tons from January to October.
DA spokesperson Noel Reyes added that 1.8 million metric tons of the total amount of rice that the country has imported were placed after the enactment of the rice tariffication bill in March.
“We cannot restrict. Kasi kung ire-restrict mo ‘yan, we are going against the law, unless the law says, we can only import so much,” Reyes said.
The DA admitted that there may have been an over-importation of rice in the country.
Because of this, DA Secretary William Dar and Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairperson Cynthia Villar are planning to review the said law.
“That’s the feeling of the department because of the complaints of farmers and farmers groups,” Reyes said.
“That’s the wish of the secretary and Senator Villar after a year, they have to review the RTL (Rice Tariffication Law) and probably put in some more provisions so as not to over-exceed our rice requirements,” he added.
Several farmer groups share the same sentiment.
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said the government must raise the rice importation tariff and focus on increasing the presence of local rice in the market.
“Kapag dumating na ‘yung panahon na naubos na ‘yung sobra, pwede naman nilang tanggalin ‘yung additional tariff na ‘yun para magpasok ulit ng imported. Ganun sana ang laro nila,” said Raul Montemayor, FFF National Manager.
“Parang gusto nating mamatay ‘yung magsasaka, na wala tayong nilagay na control sa import, pasok lang ng pasok ‘yung importation, pabagsak ng pabagsak ang palay, at parang napakahina ‘yung response ng gobyerno,” he added.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), on the other hand, believes that the Rice Tariffication Law must be scrapped.
The group said the latest record of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that the farm gate price of palay (grains) is now at P15 per kilo.
The KMP, however, said there are still several areas in the country where farmers sell their produce at P10 per kilo.
“Hindi na rin po namimili ang National Food Authority kasi po sa ilalim po ng Rice Tarrification and Liberalization Law, hindi na po sila mamimili ng palay sa magsasaka kaya po lalo pong binabarat ng mga malalaking traders at cartels,” said KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos.
In a statement, Bantay Bigas group spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said that they have been giving warning that the rice tariffication law will gravely affect the local farmers.
“As we have decried repeatedly, RA 11203 will turn Filipinos into beggars of imported rice. We all have witnessed this law causing bankruptcy to rice farmers, and this will lead to displacement and ultimately declined productivity,” Estavillo said.
To date, the price of a regular milled local rice is somewhere between P35 and P38 per kilo in several marketplaces in Quezon City.
The DA, on the other hand, is confident that the price of rice will continue to go down to P30 per kilo.
The agency also sees a downward trend in rice importation by next year as the local production improves. (from the report of Harlene Delgado) /mbmf
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