Farmers and civil society groups on Monday urged Presidential Adviser on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis Pangilinan to continue supporting farmers and not abandon the National Food Authority’s (NFA) subsidy program.
The groups were reacting to recent pronouncements of Pangilinan about the need to review the rice agency’s subsidy program, upon the advice of the Aquino administration’s economic managers.
“We are worried that Secretary Pangilinan may be giving in to pressures of the neo-liberal paradigm of the government’s economic team, acceding to the rice industry liberalization track that even the predecessor of this Administration did not dare to implement,” said Omi Royandoyan, Executive Director of Centrosaka Inc. (CSI).
“We hope that the extreme market advocates have not prevailed on Secretary Pangilinan,” Royandoyan added.
The farmers appealed to Pangilinan to follow the Food Self-Sufficiency Program (FSSP) that he supported when he was still a senator.
The former senator was also the Chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization (COCAFM), which crafted the Agriculture and Fisheries 2025 programs, together with the Department of Agriculture, farmers, civil society groups and other rice industry stakeholders.
Trinidad Domingo, Honorary Chair of the Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), stressed that developing the rice industry is clearly based on increasing farmers’ income and greater government support in different aspects of the industry, including procurement of a large part of the overall palay production at a given harvest season.
“Why does he appear to be slowly veering away from the FSSP agreements, now that he is sitting in the Executive and could very well implement these?” Domingo asked.
Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) convenor Aurora Regalado also expressed apprehension over Pangilinan’s alleged plan to allow private traders to take over the local procurement and importation functions of the NFA as their solution to the problems besetting the local rice industry.
Last week, CSI and R1 received information that the Bureau of Customs auctioned 18,195 bags of smuggled rice to a private trader for P25.3 million or P28/kilo.
“These may go directly to smugglers and that was also the reason we opposed the same action before. The trader can very well sell it in retail at the current price of P43 and give the trader clear profit at the expense of the government,” Regalado said.
“That is why it is very ironic that Pangilinan is apparently allowing the private traders to take over the importation role of the NFA now that we just acquired the Quantitative Restriction (QR) on rice importation from the Council on Trade in Goods of the World Trade Organization (WTO),” she added.
She stressed that letting the private traders to import rice again when NFA and Customs reforms have not been fully implemented is like allowing smugglers to go back to their heyday once again.
It will be recalled that the Senate investigation early this year found that private traders’ importation and farmers-as-importers program were the culprits in the proliferation of smuggling.
Companies were granted permits to import even as they were found to be lacking in financial capital to be able to venture into trading activities. Some of these bought the import permits of farmers and even re-used the same permits to be able to bring in smuggled rice.
Pangilinan announced the review of the NFA’s rice subsidy program, which is expected to start this month, would address the steadily increasing debt of the grains agency.
R1 expressed doubt the policy review would lead to lower prices of rice, saying the existence of cartels remains one of the biggest threats for the industry.
“Will the review lower the price of rice? Not necessarily. Who said the rice cartel has been dismantled? Nobody,” Regalado said.
Domingo said the NFA’s palay procurement is necessary at this point when the local rice industry is running against time to fully develop to withstand the competition from its ASEAN neighbors and the expected liberalization of imports after the QR expires in 2017.
“We cannot anymore get an extension of the QR. The local rice industry has to fully develop primarily with the interest of rice farmers above all to ensure it will be a sustained and inclusive growth as this Administration promised to people,” Royandoyan added.