'PH policy entices farmers to be rice importers'

Posted at 01/25/2014 2:16 AM

MANILA -- "Sa ganyang patakaran, parang tinuturuan mo ang magsasakang suntukin ang kanyang sariling sikmura."

This was the statement given by Rafael Mariano, chairman of the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, when asked to comment on the Philippines' current rice importation policies.

Speaking to radio dzMM on Friday, Mariano said that instead of providing more subsidy for farmers' production of rice, the government even encourages them to import rice.

He said the Philippines' membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and adherence to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) do not benefit farmers.

"Hindi po nakabuti, bagkus nakapinsalang lalo sa industriya natin ng palay at bigas sa bansa, sa agrikultural na sektor...at siya pa pong nagpapalala ngayon ng problema ng smuggling," he said.

He said the WTO policy that granted the Philippines to impose quantitative restriction on the importation of rice by requiring importers to secure permits expired on June 2012.

Mariano said this is the legal argument rice smugglers use every time the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA) hold their imports.

If the Philippines were not a member of WTO, then the government could limit the volume of rice that can be imported, and therefore help protect local farmers, he said.

"Eh di pag may bawal na bigas ang private sector, pwede mo nang i-cease and desist order o sakotehin o kumpistahin," he said.

Increase rice production instead

Still, Mariano said it would be much better if the government prioritize the protection of local farmers over the approval of rice importation permits.

He also noted that farmers are sometimes tempted to import rice instead of producing their own rice because the commission they get from their businessmen-financiers is much higher than the money they get when they give rice to the National Food Authority (NFA).

He said the NFA, in turn, will lack rice for buffer-stocking and also resort to importation.

"Imbes na magbayad ng mas malaki [sa farmers], mag-iimport. So ang farmers maa-attract na lang din na mag-import," Mariano said, lamenting that many therefore end up being used by rice smugglers.

"Pag may projected shortfall [of rice], dapat papaano mo kukuhanin sa produksyon yan. Mali naman na ang kukunin mong solusyon ay importasyon," he added.