Congress goes on monthlong break, with rice farmers left hanging

MANILA, Philippines – Farmgate palay prices have dropped, with some farmers selling at a loss amid the liberalization of rice imports.

What has Congress done? The Senate has two joint resolutions to help farmers out.

Joint Resolution No. 2, sponsored by Senator Francis Pangilinan, aims to authorize the use of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to provide direct cash transfers to affected rice farmers.

Under the rice tariffication law, the RCEF is mainly for cash loans, trainings, and farm tools, and cannot be used for doleouts.

Joint Resolution No. 8, authored by senators Juan Miguel Zubiri and Cynthia Villar, seeks to allow the Department of Social Welfare and Development to convert the P600 rice subsidy for Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries to actual rice.

But the Senate and the House of Representatives have adjourned for a monthlong break. Farmers' needs amid the liberalization of rice imports remain unaddressed.

Joint Resolution No. 2 only made it on 2nd reading.

What can still be done? Think tank Action for Economic Reforms (AER) urged President Rodrigo Duterte to call for a special session by both chambers of Congress to place relief measures for rice farmers badly hit by the implementation of the rice tariffication law.

"We plead to legislators to hold hearings and conduct plenary debates to put in place these emergency measures. The farmers need relief now, as next year, they might no longer go into farming," AER president Jessica Reyes Cantos said on Monday, October 7.

Duterte needs to certify the measures as urgent, compelling the legislature to hold sessions during the break. 

Should Duterte not act on them, Congress will only tackle the resolutions when sessions formally reopen on November 4.

By then, bulk of the second rice harvest would have happened.

"And with no relief on declining palay prices, Congress which took a monthlong break will be remiss in its duty of safeguarding our agriculture producers' interest," Cantos said.

The law was designed to correct the inefficient rice importation regime and has tamed inflation in 2019. However, Filomeno Sta Ana III, economist and AER coordinator, said that "the law is rigid with regard to the allocation of the initial P10 billion for the [RCEF]."

Sta Ana said Joint Resolution No. 2 "somehow addresses that rigidity."

How are palay prices? As of the 2nd week of September, the dry palay prevailing price is at P16.18 per kilo. (READ: Farmers seek floor price as palay sells for just P7 per kilo)

The lowest price is at P10, which means that farmers are selling at a loss, assuming that the production cost is P12 per kilo.

The highest selling price is at P21.41. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

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