Thursday, October 17, 2019

'Rise for Rice'

How have we come to this? Those who produce food for us remain in penury and debt while they are perpetually being stalked by hunger that need not be.
When the misleadingly called rice tariffication law was passed last February, its sponsors crowed about it like it was heaven’s gift to Filipino farmers. Actually, the name of the law is rice liberalization law (Republic Act No. 11203). Its onerous title: “An act liberalizing the importation, exportation and trading of rice, lifting for the purpose the quantitative import restriction on rice, and for other purposes.”
Its pushers in Congress often referred to it as the “rice tariffication law,” as though afraid that the word “liberalization” would cast a spell that would cause unrest. Whatever its name, RA 11203 is not only causing unrest among Filipino farmers, it has also mired them in debt and penury, because the price of their palay (unmilled rice) has plummeted to the depths, while cheap imported rice floods the warehouses.

Last Monday, representatives of rice watch groups and peasant women leaders held a press conference to raise the call “Rise for Rice!” and launch a signature campaign for the repeal of RA 11203, and the enactment of House Bill No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act (filed by Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela Women’s Party). HB 477 hopes to ensure food security based on self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and not on importation.

The target number of signatures is 11,203 to be gathered from market places, turo-turo and people who live by rice. Behind the move are groups Bantay Bigas, Amihan (a national federation of peasant women), Gabriela and Anakpawis.
This is a timely move just before the United Nations’ celebration of International Day of Rural Women (Oct. 15) and World Food Day (Oct. 16).

Zenaida Soriano, Amihan national chair, said: “Women are in the frontline of hunger. Thus, women, especially women farmers, are direct victims of the rice liberalization law which resulted in the drop of palay farm gate prices and the absence of affordable rice in the market.”
I had a one-on-one with Soriano before the press con, and I was quite impressed when she proudly told me that after the men are done with field preparations, it is the women who take over as the men seek nonfarming jobs to augment the family income. But the women are hardly recognized in the agriculture sector, she lamented.
While RA 11203 is in place, there will be no let-up in the clamor to have it repealed; that’s the groups’ promise. The petition and signatures will be submitted to the House of Representatives and the Senate on Nov. 4 when sessions resume. The petition contains seven points on why the “deadly” law that came into being with the principal sponsorship of Sen. Cynthia Villar must be repealed.
“Mapanlinlang” (misleading, a deception) is how the rural women called government promises that rice for the table would dramatically go down, citing its current price to be P30 to P50 per kilo and asking what happened to the National Food Authority’s P27 rice.
“The decrease in rice prices was short-lived,” Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said. “The long-term effect that is to be expected by consumers is a rise in rice prices because of limited rice supply in the world market, loss of government control of prices, and the private sector’s monopoly of control over prices and supply.”

As of now, the rice watch groups said, palay farm gate prices range from P10 to P15 per kilo, with fresh palay costing a mere P12 per kilo. Without rice dryers, farmers part with their newly harvested rice at low prices.
Even rice millers are affected, too. Close to 7,000 rice millers all over the country with some 55,000 workers will be severely affected if there will be no palay to mill.
The groups estimate a P60-billion loss among farmers from January to August, with farmers contemplating on abandoning their farmlands to the delight of real estate developers and land speculators.
“Harvest time is about to end,” Estavillo lamented, “and there is no relief in sight for the farmers who are victims of the deadly deluge that is liberalization.” #

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