May 24, 2016
Manila—Multi-sectoral alliance Bantay Bigas today called on president-elect Rodrigo Duterte to not be swayed by calls to liberalize rice importation and refuted claims that doing so will make food more affordable to the poor.
“Liberalization of rice importation will only benefit big private traders. Rice stocks being subjected to private sector control enables them to dictate the flow of supply and the price of rice which is the opposite of making it more affordable to majority of Filipinos, “ said Cathy Estavillo, Spokesperson of Bantay Bigas.
The alliance, reacting to the statement made by the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF), also maintained its position calling for the retention of quantitative restrictions (QR) on imported rice.
“Lifting of QRs will take away the very little protection we have for our farmers. Because of the high cost of production, our locally-produced rice cannot compete with imported rice,” said Estavillo. “If QRs are removed, imported rice will flood the country and our farmers and consumers will be at the losing end,” Estavillo added.
The alliance acknowledged that the National Food Authority has been suffering losses and is buried in debts. The group attributed it to the agency’s insufficient budget to perform its mandate which pushes the agency to obtain loans with high interests.
“Ensuring food security cannot be equated with profitability. Losses are due to the ‘buy high, store long, sell low’ policy needed for a nation where most people are poor. To ensure that staple food is affordable to Filipinos, NFA sells rice below the prevailing commercial price,” said Estavillo.
The group opined that The NFA must be strengthened primarily through provision of sufficient budget for the agency to perform its mandate, especially its local palay procurement.
“NFA’s local buying capacity should be enough to buy at least 25% of the country’s local rice production to significantly influence local rice traders and increase the probability of safe and affordable rice reaching the majority of Filipinos,” Estavillo stated.
The alliance ended by calling on president-elect Duterte to prioritize the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform through free land distribution with provisions for support services to farmers for a rice self-sufficient Philippines. ###