THERE’S reportedly a plan by the incoming Duterte administration to bring down the price of rice to P15 a kilo. Millions of consumers, weighed down by the high price of rice, will definitely welcome this if implemented. However, it will deal a devastating blow to rice farmers.
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, according to reports, believes that a lower price of rice would make rice smuggling unprofitable. Indeed, rice smuggling has increased and remained unchecked under the unlamented administration of BS Aquino The Last and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala. Unfortunately, lower rice price will also make rice farming equally unprofitable. To paraphrase a Filipino proverb, “Sa smuggler and hataw, sa magsasaka ang latay.”
For rice to be sold at P15 a kilo, rice traders will buy palay or unhusked rice at P7.50 a kilo. Remember that the recovery rate for palay is about 70 percent at most, or it would take 100 kilos of palay to produce 70 kilos of rice. Now, how would rice farmers survive if their produce will fetch a price of only P7.50 a kilo?
Farming is dependent on the weather. Frequent typhoons result in lower rice production. Palay harvested after heavy rains are water-soaked and so they get lower prices. Note that palay is a buyer’s market. Unlike other producers, rice farmers could not dictate the price for their produce. Rice dealers always do. Sure, the National Food Authority does buy palay at a subsidized price but it can buy only about 10 to 15 percent of the total produce.
The Aquino administration had boasted that the country would achieve rice sufficiency by 2013. Well, it failed miserably. There was scarcity of the golden grain, resulting in the unprecedented importation of rice. Unfortunately, there was over importation, exacerbated by smuggling, consequently depressing the price of palay.
There’s good reason to sympathize with consumers over the high price of rice. You want premium rice? Then shell out about P90 for one kilo. Those who can’t afford this price have to make do with lower quality rice. Very often, consumers are short-changed not only by faulty weighing scales but also by the greed of rice dealers. A common practice is mixing Grade B and Grade A rice, then sell the mixture as Grade A. However, there should be equal sympathy for the welfare of farmers, the producers of rice.
The cost of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, as well as labor, has gone up. If only there is government subsidy for fertilizers and needed chemicals, the cost of rice production would be lower. And how about subsidizing the local production of farm machinery? There are a lot of incentives for the assembly of cars, why not give greater incentives for mechanized farming?
Last year, the agriculture sector grew by a measly 1 percent. This graphically illustrated the utter neglect that the sector had suffered under the administration of BS Aquino The Last. Incoming Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol could turn this around by assuring more incentives and bigger budget for greater production of rice.
Bataan political giant
Rep. Enrique “Tet” Garcia, of the second district of Bataan, passed away last June 13 of cirrhosis of the liver. He towered over provincial politics since 1987, when he was first elected congressman. His stature was such that he successfully built a political dynasty of unprecedented width and breadth in Bataan. In the last election, he ran for vice governor unopposed, as did his sons, reelectionist Gov. Abet Garcia and Balanga Mayor Joet Garcia, for congressman. A daughter, Gila, won reelection as mayor of Dinalupihan, although she had an opponent.
The only blot in Tet’s political career came when he was unseated in a recall election by his cousin, Gov. Ding Roman.
Tet had suffered a massive heart attack in late 2012 that limited his mobility and confined him to a wheelchair. He was expected to retire from politics and leave the arena to sons Abet and Joet. The politics in his blood, however, was stronger than his ailment, so he ran for Congress and won in 2013, and for vice governor last May.
Tet had fought many good fights in Congress and even in the Supreme Court. He never shirked away from challenges. In the end, he had to succumb to the Grim Reaper, as most of us will. His family and friends knew for several years that he was living on borrowed time. Yet, his departure from earth still lives a void in many a heart.
Incidentally, among those who attended his wake were Mr. Duterte, former Executive Secretary Oscar Orbos and former Bataan Rep. Tong Payumo, with whom he tangled a number of times but had made peace after each political battle.