Pangilinan sounds alarm as Filipino rice farmers say palay prices fall to P7 per kilo

MANILA - As Filipino rice farmers suffer from plummeting selling prices of palay (unhusked rice), Senator Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan on Tuesday called on government to act as equalizer and implement the Sagip Saka Law immediately.

"Lahat ng accredited farmers organizations o kaya fisher-folk organizations ay pupuwedeng maging bahagi ng ganitong negotiated purchases sa mga pamahalaang lokal at pamahalaang pambansa. So for example ang gumagawa ngayon niyan, NFA (National Food Authority), bumibili direkta sa mga magsasaka. So ngayon hindi na lang NFA ang pwedeng bumili ng produktong bigas," said the former food security secretary.

Panglinan said the law exempts local governments and national agencies from the Procurement Law and can now directly buy from farmers' and fishers' organizations for their feeding program, their employees' rice allowance, their food-for-work programs, among others.

"Halimbawa, may rice allowance yung ibang mga local governments, usually niyan cash, e di bigyan mo ng 80% cash, 20% bigas mismo. Pero yung bente porsyentong na bigas na yun bibilhin mo ngayon sa mga magsasaka. So yan yung magiging dagdag na supporta para sa ating magsasaka na alam nila pag nagtatanim sila hindi sila babaratin dahil nandiyan ang pamahalaang lokal, pamahalaang pambansa, mga ahensya ng gobyerno na bibili sa negotiated price na hindi palugi," he said.

At the Senate hearing on how to help farmers absorb the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law, Pangilinan said government can now negotiate the prices directly with food producers, who in the process will be assured of buyers of their produce at fair prices.

Across the board, farmers and farmer-rights advocates told the hearing that buying prices for palay have dropped to as low as P7 to P8 per kilo, much lower than the production cost of palay at P12 per kilo.

Romeo Royandoyan, of Centro Saka, expressed shock over data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on P17-per-kilo selling palay prices calling them "far from the reality".?? "Pwede po ba yung PSA, magreview kayo ulit dahil naiiba 'yung monitoring ng mga farmers namin sa ground. Ang report until last night, nagugulat sila, bakit ang Nueva Ecija, bakit otso lang yung palay?" he said.

"Before the batas, ang presyo ng palay is P20. Noong napasa ang batas, bakit naging dose, otso, nueve?" he said, pointing out the causality between the Rice Tariffication Law and the diving palay prices.

Former agrarian reform secretary Rafael Mariano said P8 per kilo of palay is not an exaggeration and said government officials must respect the experience of farmers."Kahit pa bali-baliktarin natin kung aktwal at konkretong naranasan ng ating magsasaka -- sa Nueva Ecija, hindi po iyon pagmamalabis. Kasi hindi po pwedeng magmalabis ang aktwal na karanasan ng mga magsasaka," he said.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla insisted that the national average is P16-P18.

Arze Glipo, of the National Movement for Food Security, told the Senate hearing that before the Rice Tariffication Law, rice farmers were already not earning enough for their daily needs, getting only P27,000 per cropping or P54,000 every year. This, she pointed out, puts most farmers among the poorest 10 percent in the country.

"Kailangan ng magsasaka ang tulong ngayon," Glipo said, saying that palay prices in Central Luzon, particularly Aurora, are as low as P10.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, asked the farmers to list the places where the low palay prices are so that the NFA can buy them at P17 per kilo.

Higher farmers' income as peg of govt success

Pangilinan said he shares Agriculture Secretary William Dar's vision on doubling farmers' income, noting that farmers still earn very little despite the billions of pesos poured by government in agricultural programs.

"Dahil kung bilyon nga ang ginagastos natin sa mga iba't ibang programa, ngunit hindi naman dumadagdag ang napupunta sa bulsa ng mga magsasaka, ano'ng saysay ng lahat nung mga suporta," the senator said.

"That our farmers fare well, especially in their livelihood, is my own personal advocacy in these policy discussions," he added.

Pangilinan stressed that increased farmers' income is the benchmark of other countries when government intervenes with the agricultural sector.

"Napakahalaga nun dahil sa ibang bansa, Vietnam, China, Thailand, ang benchmark ng lahat ng kanilang intervention ay kung nadadagdagan ba ang kinikita o sinasahod ng mga magsasaka," said Pangilinan, who himself has a small vegetable farm in Cavite.

Sagip Saka of 2019 or Republic Act 11321 aims to increase farmers' and fisher folk's incomes by requiring government agencies to purchase produce and harvest directly from farm enterprises. By doing this without the middlemen, food prices go down and food producers earn more.

The law is part of the Pangilinan's campaign promises in the 2016 national elections. It was signed into law April 17, 2019, and was made publicly available May 27.

Agriculture officials vowed to implement the law immediately, after lawmakers pointed out that they have had a 90-day allowance for rollout. Sagip Saka should have been implemented by August.

Source: Senate of the Philippines