We, the Makabayan bloc in Congress, holds President Rodrigo Duterte responsible for the severe rice crisis now devastating the poor. It is his anti-Filipino farmers policies, including National Food Authority’s (NFA) near zero palay procurement, that caused the crisis.
We challenge Pres. Duterte to boost NFA capacity and order it to buy Filipino farmers palay at P20 per kilo on a massive scale as the country enters harvest season, and make affordable rice available to retailers throughout the country.
Sen. Villar’s call to abolish NFA is completely wrong and will only make the nation more vulnerable to the rice cartels’ manipulation.
Pres. Duterte cannot feign ignorance as he is primarily responsible for the NFA’s deliberate withdrawal from the market, leaving the field to the profiteering and manipulation of rice traders and cartels.
Consider the following points:
1. The NFA, which is under Pres. Duterte’s control, implemented a near-zero local procurement policy. This is the result of Duterte’s policy of decoupling the NFA, specifically removing its function as a major rice distributor and limiting the NFA mandate to the maintenance of buffer stock, as stated in the Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022.
The NFA was given a budget of P5.1 billion for 2017 for its Food Security Program and P7 billion in 2018 for its Buffer Stocking Program. But in 2017, it procured a measly 28,344 metric tons or about 0.001% of the 19.2 million metric tons total production. In January 2018, it procured a mere 334 metric tons.
2. Pres. Duterte and his administration has kept the NFA buying price at P17 per kilogram, a price level that was set in 2009 and has long been outstripped by inflation. The low procurement price discourages Filipino farmers from selling their produce to NFA; thus, big commercial traders and cartels were able to procure almost all of the 19.2 million metric tons produced in 2017.
But still, farmers who fell victim to underpricing by unscrupulous landlords and traders from various provinces have complained of NFA’s absence from the market. They are constrained to sell to privade traders at give-away farmgate prices such as P12 per kg during the rainy season. Ultimately, the national stock has become a private stock, controlled by cartel of big landlords and traders manipulating supply and prices.
3. Pres. Duterte and his officials narrowed the options and protracted the debate on modes of rice importation – whether through the private sector or “government-to-government” – delaying the entry of imported rice and practically giving the go-signal to traders to jack up prices.
4. Duterte and his officials deliberately set aside the option/solution to raise the NFA buying price and volume of local procurement.
5. President Duterte violated and continues to violate the mandate of the NFA, which is “to ensure national food security and stabilize supply and prices of staple cereals both in the farm and consumer levels,” as well as its mission to “ensure reasonable rate of return to Filipino farmers, provide adequate supply and affordable rice and corn for the country,” and vision for “a nationwide sustainable mechanism for ensuring the stabilization of the prices and supply of rice and corn while increasing the income of Filipino farmers.
6. Early this month, the Commission on Audit (COA) flagged the NFA for its diversion of the P5.1 billion subsidy from the national government as payment for its maturing loans, instead of using it for its food security program. The commission said that had the NFA attained its target procurement, it would not have only added to the mandatory buffer stock requirement, but would have likewise encouraged farmers to produce more. It also noted the non-competitive buying price of palay in 2017 contributed to cause the rice supply shortages and higher prices of commercial rice in the market.
The Duterte administration has adopted a flawed concept of food security, that limited itself to “availability, accessibility at utilization” of rice, thus, its total reliance to importation to fill up the gap between the supply and consumption.
We, at Makabayan, assert that food security is based on self-sufficiency, and the government should secure the national stock of rice by procuring it at farmgate prices advantageous to poor farmers, and selling it at low retail prices to benefit poor consuming public.
We demand the following critical measures:
1.For the NFA to immediately increase its buying price from the current P17 per kg to at least P20 per kg. The P7 billion subsidy for 2018 could procure 350,000 metric tons at P20 per kg of palay, that would produce more than 4.5 million bags of milled rice. Make locally-procured NFA rice available to poor consumers at an affordable price in retail outlets throughout the country.
Instead of abolishing the NFA, its budget for local palay procurement must be raised substantially.
2. Impose rice price control in Zamboanga and other areas to immediately arrest rice cartel manipulation.
3.Improve rice self-sufficiency from 95% to 100%, and break out from neoliberal subservience, as dictated by the World Trade Organization – Agreement on Agriculture; defend Philippine rice sector from massive importation as being further pushed by the Rice Imports Tariffication bill; and uphold Genuine Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in the country.
Ultimately, we urge the people, principally the poor sectors, to protest the failure of the Duterte administration and demand full food security based on self-sufficiency in the country.
The Makabayan Bloc coalition in Congress is composed of Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, ACT Teachers partylist Reps. Antonio Tinio and France Castro, Gabriela Women’s Party Reps.Emmi de Jesus and Arlene Brosas, Anakpawis partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao and Kabataan partylist Rep. Sarah Elago. ###