October is marked as Peasant Month and it is the third one under the Duterte administration. Since time immemorial in Philippine history, the peasant sector has always been marginalized and oppressed, neglected by the government. Presently, the government’s negligence of the sector’s basic needs has rippled to the people especially to the poor with the skyrocketing price of our staple food – rice.
While the Philippines is an agricultural country, we are facing a rice crisis and is reliant on importing rice to meet the demand. The rice production of the Philippines has been in an all-time low and has reached 0.58% according to World Bank. This is brought about by Duterte’s anti-people neoliberal policies.
According to Bantay Bigas and two other peasant groups, it is Duterte’s neoliberal policy that has led to food insecurity and rice crisis. It is Duterte’s plan to make National Food Authority (NFA) only as a reservoir of rice instead of the agency actively participating in the establishing the supply and prices of rice. Duterte’s plan is giving the private entities such as the landlords and big private rice traders and importers the freedom to trade without the NFA’s intervention while giving these private traders the power to control the market leaving out local producers and products.
The NFA’s cheap procurement of our local palay produce is another reason. The NFA buys rice from our farmers at an average of Php 17.00 per kilogram, which is rather small for our farmers trying to survive through the high cost of commodities. It pushes our local rice farmers to sell their products to private traders who offers to buy their products at an average of Pho 20.00 and then sells it to the market at a very steep price – the average retail price we experienced on August 2018 is at P43.86 and P47.12 a kilo, regular and well-milled rice respectively. These were higher by 15.24 percent and 11.63 percent than last year.
Implementation of a rice tarrification on imports was the government’s resort, lifting the government’s control over the volume of imports while imposing a 35% tariff over it. This will lead to the flooding of imported rice that will kill our local rice industry due to high competition. Even with high tarrification, countries we import from can pay for the higher tax and still sell their surplus rice at a much lower price than that of our local rice.
The 0.58% agricultural output for 2018 is not close to being enough to sustain the needs of more than 100 million Filipinos. The current food insecurity or rice crisis that we face is largely caused by the widespread monopoly of land by a few families. leaving hectares upon hectares of land unutilized to produce the staple needs of the country. In Eastern Visayas, seven out of ten farmers own no land. The low rice production of our local farmers is primarily caused by this topped with the high rent of lands imposed by landlords, high usury, no subsidy or support from the government, the lack of irrigation and other infrastructures, and the intense militarization of the state and even the employment of the landlords of private goons to abuse or kill farmers. These problems result to the low harvest each year and eventually push the farmers to leave the sector to look for other jobs.
The government should start attending to the clamors of the peasant sector for they know how to surpass the crisis the country is currently in. The government and its agencies should implement long term solutions that will ultimately alleviate the agricultural sector which is the backbone of our economy. It is high time to empower the sector and provide the needs of the peasantry: providing all necessary support and passing and implementing a genuine agrarian reform that aims to distribute lands to the tillers.