Bayan proposes solutions to the rice crisis

Apr. 27, 2008

In these times of increasing prices of rice and other basic commodities, the Filipino people are forced to swallow the bitter pill that is apparently brought about by the government’s failure to establish a genuine comprehensive program for food security.

While recognizing that high prices of rice will greatly affect the poor majority, the government is offering palliative solutions such as the lifting of quota for rice import and increasing the price of NFA rice from 18.25 pesos to 25 pesos a kilo.

These solutions, we believe, run counter to the government’s mandate of protecting the people’s welfare amidst the worsening economic crisis. More than 3.6 million families are experiencing hunger over the last two years because of these solutions.

The Arroyo government is continuously harping at the problem of rice supply in the Philippines as the main cause of increases in rice prices.

According to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, “unstable” prices of rice in the market are brought about by external and internal factors, which were aggravated by worldwide food crisis, citing the refusal of Vietnam to export rice to the Philippines.

Contradicting pronouncements of the Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority (NFA) on the supply of rice were observed when this issue came up last month, showing that the people in the administration are very quick to cover up the real cause of uncontrolled price increases.

Bayan believes that the increase in rice prices is a consequence of the liberalized environment of the rice industry. We have been badly experiencing rice shortage coupled with continuing price increases since we decided to be part of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1995.

Since that year, rice prices shot up by more than 50 percent, with a consistent annual increase of two percent recorded since 1995. Influx of imported rice from Vietnam and Thailand also made us as one of the largest importer of rice, accounting to seven percent of the global rice trade.

The Arroyo government obviously could not hide the fact that we’re experiencing low supply of affordable rice because of massive conversion of agricultural lands for commercial crop production. In Southern Mindanao alone, there is low production of palay, accounting only to 1.3 percent income from 1992-2006.

Without a subsidized agricultural economy, commercial rice retailers and traders are feasting on locally produced rice as a means to amass more profit and manipulate prices. By exploiting farmers’ incapacity to sustain rice production, these cartels take the upper hand to set the system of rice production, distribution and pricing in their favor.

In the midst of the National Broadband Network-ZTE controversy, the Arroyo government comes up with different scripts to put out the fire and douse the raging discontent of the Filipino people. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should know that this crisis will hold her accountable. She should avert this crisis by employing state power in favor of the people’s interests.

Bayan asserts the following proposal:

Control the price of rice and other commodities as mandated by Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act of 1992, which gives the President the power to impose a price ceiling on rice and other basic necessities during emergency situations and like occasions;

Legislate and approve pending bills in Congress on the 125/3,000 pesos wage increase and genuine agrarian reform law. The President can certify these bills as urgent so Congress can immediately act on them;

Increase the NFA’s local procurement of rice products to 25 percent. The NFA is only acquiring 0.5 percent of locally produced rice. In relation to this, the government should improve its subsidy to farmers such as irrigation and other agricultural subsidy;

Suspend the collection of the 12 percent value added tax on oil products by simply writing a resolution asking Congress to implement it. This move will instantly bring down the pump prices of petroleum products by five pesos to six pesos per liter; and that of liquefied petroleum gas by 69 pesos per tank. This will help ease the burden of the people, especially that rice prices continue to soar;

Systematize the distribution process of NFA rice by putting up more accessible NFA outlets. Distribution of NFA rice to the barangays will only be used for partisan political interest;

No to the privatization of the NFA especially now that there are proposals to cut down NFA powers in favor of private rice retailers and traders. This will eventually absolve government of its responsibility to distribute affordable rice to the people;

Stop the importation and distribution of rice from the United States as this will worsen the debt ridden condition of the NFA and will further subject our people to hazardous genetically modified organisms;

Investigate and prosecute the culprits of corruption cases in the agriculture sector amidst allegations of irregularity in the government’s fertilizer fund and swine program.
With these proposals, we are optimistic that the Filipino masses can have a reprieve from the present financial and economic crises. That is, if the Arroyo government implements such measures at the soonest. The Filipino people stand to suffer if our government continues on its anti-poor policies, detrimental to our lives, livelihood, and economic condition.

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Southern Mindanao

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