Control rice prices, support agri frontliners
As poor consumers continue to suffer from the impact of the lockdown, prices of commercial rice in the market increased from pre-lockdown February to March. Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority showed that prices of regular milled rice rose by P3.62 or 10 percent from P36.16 to P39.78 per kilo. At the Mega Q-mart in Quezon City, prices of regular rice were already at P40 per kilo.
Price shocks are commonly expected after a drastic move such as the lockdown, as foreign countries tend to secure their own stock for their own population. The Duterte administration obviously failed to uphold the food security of the people. Farmers are being barred from or limited to working their lands, deliveries of rice from the provinces to Metro Manila are being blocked by checkpoints, and poor consumers actually have zero purchasing power to buy rice, with majority of them being “no work, no pay” workers.
Increased rice prices would further throw poor consumers into indebtedness and hunger; moreover, this would also affect relief efforts for affected sectors. Despite President Duterte’s issuance of Memorandum Circular No. 77 last March 17 directing the Department of Agriculture to freeze the prices of agricultural products and other essential items, we are being hammered by price increases.
It is crucial for the government to seriously carry out its price freeze order, especially for rice, to ensure that consumers’ rights are protected and there is food affordability amid the crisis. We challenge the government to control the prices of rice and pull it down to P25 per kilo, to make it accessible to affected poor consumers who have mostly lost their sources of livelihood and household incomes. If Mr. Duterte can control the mobility of people, he should be able to do the same with rice prices.
Moreover, intensified relief distribution of rice stocks of the National Food Authority to poor sectors affected by the lockdown is necessary. We also urge the government to consider the total scrapping of Republic Act No. 11203 or the rice tariffication law, as it has shown its total failure under the pandemic. Vietnam, one of the main sources of the country’s rice imports, has already announced its suspension of exports, which is also complicated by China’s control of at least 11 mega-dams at the upper basin of the Mekong River, triggering drought over the rice lands of many Southeast Asian countries.
Farmgate prices of rice in Nueva Ecija fell by P0.50 per kilo, from P18 to P17.50 per kilo. More people are demanding rice, but farmgate prices are falling due to the government drumming up its importation of 300,000 metric tons of rice. The law itself is destructive especially at this time of the pandemic, when we should all be supporting our food security frontliners and not subjecting them to profiteering and exploitation. Adequate production and socioeconomic support should be provided to rice farmers as our “food security frontliners” and the real agents of food security, self-sufficiency, and self-reliance in the country.
Cathy Estavillo, secretary general, National Federation of Peasant Women (Amihan), spokesperson, Bantay Bigas
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