MANILA Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered Agriculture Secretary William Dar to suspend the importation of rice in order to help local farmers who suffered from the rice tariffication law.
Duterte gave the order in a press conference late Tuesday night, November 19, saying the move was needed to avoid "riots" brought about by hunger and a lack of food.
"Yes, because it is harvest time," the President said when asked if he was ordering for the importation of rice to be suspended.
"Kung walang pagkain halos kabahan ang mga tao, magra-riot na. Tapos sige na, magugutom na ang mga tao, wala nang bigas, next month, wala nang kainin, mahal na.... Mamili ka: magutom 'yung tao o galit 'yung mga farmers?" he added.
(If there's no food, the people would be worried, they would stage riots. Then, people would be hungry, there's no more rice, next month, they won't have anything to eat, it's already expensive.... You choose: the people would be hungry, or the farmers would be angry?)
Duterte claimed that among the reasons for the lack of rice was local producers' failure to accurately predict how much they produce. This, he added, was due to factors such as climate change, which affected local farmers' projected output come harvest time.
The President said he opted to stop the importation of rice as he could not stop rice tariffication, which was needed to "erase corruption."
Duterte did not say for how long the order would be in place, claiming it was needed to ensure farmers earned from their efforts.
Duterte also had no qualms about the millions which would be needed to buy rice from local farmers should this push through, as he claimed it was now time for the government to focus on aiding farmers.
"There's somebody na ayaw rin kasi masisira 'yung negosyo nila (Somebody doesn't want their business to be ruined).... Well I'm sorry, I made you happy for so many years, now is the time that you have to come to terms with reality that I also have to take care also of the few, I cannot abandon them (farmers)," he said.
Duterte ordered Congress to appropriate the needed funds to buy "all the rice" from local farmers and additional stocks needed to feed millions of consumers.
Since the signing of Republic Act No. 1120 or an "An Act liberalizing the importation, exportation, and trading of rice, lifting for the purpose the quantitative import restriction on rice," farmgate prices of palay (unhusked rice) have reportedly dropped to as low as P7 per kilo in some areas. Critics pinned the blame on the passage of the rice tariffication law that replaced import quotas with tariffs.
With the rice tariffication law, the deregulation of rice meant imported rice flooding the country, to the disadvantage of Filipino rice farmers and the local rice industry as a whole, which can't compete with the prices of rice from countries like Thailand and Vietnam.
Since the enactment of the rice tariffication law in February, lawmakers have attempted to pass measures that will allow the government to use Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) rice subsidy funds to buy palay from local farmers in select provinces.