President Rodrigo Duterte has temporarily halted rice importation during the local palay harvest season to protect the livelihood of the Filipino farmers from the entry of the imported staple, Senator Cynthia Villar said yesterday.
Villar, who was guest speaker at the 14th Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival at the provincial Capitol grounds in Bacolod City, assured Negrense rice farmers that government is also releasing assistance to help them become competitive, following the liberalization of the rice industry.
The president on Tuesday directed Agriculture Secretary William Dar to suspend rice importations to shield the livelihood of Filipino farmers.
Duterte said he decided to suspend rice imports because there was no other “remedy” to ease the effects of the Rice Tariffication Law that has led to lower domestic farm gate prices of palay.
The President said he had no problem losing billions of pesos from government funds to buy palay from local farmers if only to help them sustain their livelihood.
He urged the Dar and Congress to “appropriate money” to allow the government to buy all the rice.
The President did not say how long his order to suspend rice imports would be in place.
Although the government will temporarily stop rice importations, the President said he cannot scrap the Rice Tariffication Law altogether because the country needs imported rice to fill its stock and to fend off corruption.
Villar, Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food chair, said the Philippines signed a World Trade Organization agreementon the liberalization of the rice industry that it must comply with.
So in compliance with that agreement, government cannot permanently stop rice importation, what the government will probably do is delay the release of the phytosanitary import clearances of rice importers to prevent the entry of imports while local farmers are harvesting to ensure the sale of their palay, she said.
Villar noted that the National Food Authority also has a lot of rice in its bodegas that it imported prior to the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law that it should also release.
But the Philippines still needs to eventually import rice because it only produces 90 percent of the country’s needs, she said.
“We have to balance the welfare of the consumers and the farmers,” she said.
That is why funds earned by government from tariffs imposed on imported rice has been earmarked to help the country’s farmers produce rice at lower costs in order to become competitive, Villar said.
She stressed the need for rice farmers to mechanize to bring down their production costs. Vietnamese farmers produce their palay at half the cost of that of Filipino farmers because of mechanization, she said.
Of the about P10 billion earned from tariffs imposed on imported rice, P5 billion will be allocated annually for farm machinery for local farmers, Villar said.
She said 947 towns and cities in the country, including those in Negros Occidental, that have 100 hectares or above ofrice lands each will be allotted P5 million annually for farm machinery, and farmers will also be provided with rice seeds and fertilizer to boost their competitiveness.
The high yield inbred seeds will enable farmers to increase their harvest from 4 metric tons per hectare to 6 metric tons or even by 50 percent, that would enable the country to become rice sufficient, Villar said.
If the farmers have not received such assistance they should report the matter to the Senate so they can act on the matter, she added.*CPG/PNA
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