Robredo hits Piñol: ‘Insensitive’ to say high rice prices benefit farmers

Mara Cepeda
Robredo hits Piñol: ‘Insensitive’ to say high rice prices benefit farmers
Vice President Leni Robredo also slams the 'conflicting' statements of several government agencies on the ongoing rice crisis

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo called out Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for saying that soaring rice prices uplift the lives of Filipino farmers. 

Robredo was asked to react to the rising prices of rice on the sidelines of the budget hearing of the Office of the Vice President at the House of Representatives on Wednesday, August 29.

“Sinasabi na iyong nakikinabang sa pataas na presyo ng bigas iyong ating mga magsasaka. Para sa akin, insensitive ito – insensitive sa kahirapan na pinagdadaanan ng ordinaryong pamilyang Pilipino. Alam natin kung gaano kahirap, lalo na sa pinakamahihirap na pamilya, iyong napakataas na presyo ng bigas,” said the Vice President.

(He was saying the farmers benefit from the rising prices of rice. For me, that’s insensitive – insensitive to the plight of an ordinary Filipino family. We know how much it affects their lives when the price of rice increases.)

She did not explicitly mention Piñol, but the Department of Agriculture (DA) chief said on Tuesday, August 28, that “farmers never had it so good until today,” as he appealed to consumers to look at the soaring prices of rice in another light.  

“Ano ba naman itong P5 na pagtaas ng presyo sa bigas? (What is an increase of P5 for the price of rice?) Let’s look at it as helping the farmers,” said Piñol.

He admitted in the same interview that rice traders also take in more cash, while giving an assurance that farmers still get more from the elevated rice prices.

But Robredo disagrees, saying that rice traders earn way more than farmers.

The Vice President added that farmers she meets all over the country have long been complaining to her that the soaring prices of rice do not benefit them.

“Iyong pinakamahihirap na magsasaka, alam natin na hindi sila iyong nakikinabang. Halos linggo-linggo, nasa baba tayo, halos linggo-linggo kausap natin iyong mga maliliit na mga magsasaka, mahihirap na mga Pilipino. Ito iyong parati nilang nirereklamo,” said Robredo.

(We know that the poorest farmers do not benefit here. Almost every week, we speak with farmers, with poor Filipinos. This is what they have long been complaining about.)

‘What’s the game plan?’

Robredo then slammed the Duterte administration for giving “conflicting” statements on the rice crisis.  

She cited Piñol’s earlier statement that the rice crisis in Zamboanga City is “over,” but cheap rice from the National Food Authority (NFA) allotted for affected areas would only last up to 5 days.

Robredo then mentioned Piñol’s idea later on to consider legalizing the entry of smuggled rice in Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.

Robredo also cited Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr’s statement that the price of rice is a driver of inflation.  

But Pinol previously insisted that agricultural goods like rice are merely “reacting” to elevated prices of fuel and do not drive inflation. He even went on to suggest that food should be taken out from the formula in computing inflation.

“Iyong pinakaproblema kasi rito, walang isang mukha iyong pamahalaan, walang isang boses. Alam natin noong nakaraang linggo, nagkaroon ng hearing dito sa House of Representatives, nagbabatuhan ng paratang iyong NFA administration saka iyong NFA Council. Itong hindi pagkakasundo ng dalawa, pagpapakita na nakakadagdag pa siya – nakakadagdag pa siya sa problemang hinaharap natin ngayon,” said Robredo.  

(The problem here is that the government does not have a unified voice. We know that last week, the NFA administration and the NFA Council traded barbs during a hearing at the House of Representatives. This conflict only adds to the problem we are facing now.)

“Iyong sa atin lang, sana isa lang iyong plano ng pamahalaan. Hindi iyong iba ang council, iba iyong plano ng administration, iba iyong plano ‘di ba ng DA as an agency. Iyong sa atin, ano iyong game plan? Saan tayo patutungo?” asked the Vice President.

(We’re hoping that the government would have a unified plan. The council, the administration, and the DA as an agency should not have separate plans. So what’s the game plan? Where are we heading?) – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.