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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, November 23, 2019
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with Matè Espina

Ano ba talaga, kuya?

Rock & Refuge

That’s what people say when conflicting statements are issued as in the case of the rice situation in our country.

First, the economic managers said rice importation will continue as stopping such will have a more disastrous effect on our economy.

Then came President Rodrigo Duterte who apologized to rice farmers over the weekend who were badly affected because of the Rice Tariffication he signed early this year, allowing the unlimited entry of imported rice to supposedly bring down retail prices.

Rice farmers claim that the move has brought palay prices down, warranting even local government units to shell out funds to buy palay from their farmers in order to keep them afloat.

Losses have been estimated to reach P140 billion because of the mess which Federation of Free Farmers president, Leonardo Montemayor said is “more than 10 times the damage inflicted by Typhoon Yolanda on the agriculture sector in 2013.”

According to FFF, rice accounts for 20 percent of the gross value added of Philippine agriculture. The industry employs 2.1 million farmers. Local farmers supply 90 to 95 percent of the country’s rice requirements.

But not anymore, since more than 240,000 MT tons of rice on a monthly basis has entered the country putting us on top of the list of major importers.

The President also ordered that rice importation just be suspended last Wednesday, clearly stating that he is aware that if palay prices continue to plunge due to rice importation (which did not really bring down domestic prices anyway) there will be unrest when people start going hungry.

However, his economic managers, including Agriculture Sec. William Dar do not believe there was such an order from the president even though the same has been headlined in almost all newspapers.

So ano ba talaga, kuya?

Who is running this country if the president’s public pronouncements is not even taken seriously by his cabinet members?

To curb the effects of such order from the president, the economic managers along with Sec. Dar met with him right after he issued the banning on rice imports to clarify his order – and guess what, they got their way and it made the president look like a fool for not standing by his pronouncements.

Of course it is not surprising since the president has been known to change positions overnight but in this case – after the apology and his cabinet retracting his order, I wonder how many farmers will continue to support him.

Not surprising for Dar, too, to shrug his shoulders on the matter since even with regards to the issue of sugar liberalization that has been oft repeated by the economic managers, he refused to make any stand as he has yet to see the order which I presume must be a written order as he has said he does not believe stories published in media about it.

To appease the farmers probably, Dar said they will implement stricter and more stringent measures for importers. In fairness, this order has already been issued and this has brought the number of rice imports to 85,000 metric tons or about a third of what it has initially allowed in.

Sec. Dominguez, on the other hand, said that the president is looking at all angles but appealed to “give the law a chance to work. Initially, there will be winners and losers. But we will not stop it, we are implementing the law properly.”

Makes me curious to know who are the winners he is talking about for we already know that millions of rice farmers are at the losing end of it.

One thing is certain though, it’s going to be a blue Christmas for our rice farmers and so with the other agriculture sectors that have been hardly hit by the decisions of our economic managers this year alone.

But, not all things are bad this holiday season as in the case of the Panaad garden growers who were given a reprieve to stay until Christmas, giving them enough time to find new homes for their plants by year end.

Answered prayers was what 81-year old Endring Castillo said after Gov. Bong Lacson, through Provincial Administrator, Ray Diaz, allowed them time to vacate the stalls they have been occupying for over two decades.

All’s well that ends well and I just hope that the provincial government will send emissaries like Ray to such situations in order that peaceful solutions will be arrived at instead of sending that Jojo guy who just worsened things due to his callous remarks.

There is hope too that the garden growers may still remain in Panaad, perhaps in another location, and enter through a MOA that will legitimize their presence if they properly organize themselves and work with the provincial government.

For now, a reprieve is a better ending to this story.*

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