The Bantay Bigas, a rice watch group, and Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women has raised the alarm of probable rice crisis in the country as Vietnam, a major source of imported rice, has already stopped releasing clearances for shipments to the Philippines, as their food security measure amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups also slammed President Rodrigo Duterte’s enactment of the Republic Act 11203 Rice Liberalization Law and branded it as his fatal mistake as it undermined the country’s self-sufficiency and self-reliance in rice production.

“This is exactly what we are warning about rice liberalization prior the law’s enactment, a global crisis could throw the country into food crisis if traditional sources of imported rice stopped doing so, thus, the correct path to food security is self-sufficiency and self-reliance, not import-dependence,” Cathy Estavillo, Amihan Secretary-General and Bantay Bigas Spokesperson said in a press statement.

She added that the rice sector is a double-whammy victim of import liberalization and Luzon lockdown. Aside from the already depressing farm gate prices, rice farmers and farm workers are being barred into working on rice fields.

“Duterte’s rice liberalization and the lockdown, aside from affecting producers are now threatening poor consumers of unimaginable hunger. Our rice farmers have yet to recover from their bankruptcies and supply has been hampered by lockdown, now poor consumers’ mobility or right to livelihood are now barred by the quarantine. In a snap, food security indicators, the availability, accessibility and affordability of rice have been demolished. At present, poor families are literally beggars of rice and food,” she elaborated.

As Vietnam was the origin of 85% of more than 3 million metric tons of imported rice last year, the groups demanded radical measures from the government such as the National Food Authority’s (NFA) heightened procurement of local palay to as much six-fold of its last year’s at at least P20 per kilo. NFA procured around 750,000 metric tons or near 4% of 18.8 million metric tons of produced palay.

“NFA’s procurement should reach at least 20% of the total locally produced palay or at around 3.8 million metric tons based on last year’s. This will secure the public stock of rice,” she exclaimed.

On the production sphere, the groups demanded for the Department of Agriculture to bombard the local production with support and subsidies to result a 4.6 million metric ton increase.

“As guarantee against the uncertainty of imports, local production should offset the last year’s more than 3 million metric tons of imported rice by increasing to more than 23 million metric tons,” she stressed.

“Again, we urge the public to be vigilant on this matter and demand the government of much needed reforms. We must hold Duterte and Sen. Cynthia Villar, the main proponent of RA 11203 accountable for pushing for this anti-peasant and anti-Filipino policy of rice liberalization that has detrimental impact on the livelihood of rice farmers, national self-sufficiency for rice and food security,” ended by Estavillo. ###

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