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The rice tariffication debate

With the enactment into law of the Rice Tariffication Act, the debate about its
benefits now shifts between the law’s intended beneficiaries, the local rice farmers and
consumers, and its proponents, notably the economic technocrats and the legislators on the
side of the administration.

The proponent side argues that with the passage of the law rice will come in
abundance at a price that is affordable to many. With unhampered importation of this prime
commodity the tariff that will be collected will be sufficient enough to pump prime the dying
sector in the agriculture industry that produces local rice.

The abundance of supply and pump priming the rice farming sector argument in
reality serves only the interest of the importers instead of securing ample supply of this
staple food. Food security is the sole responsibility of the government and is only possible if
the staple food is produced by our own farmers.

But policy makers in this country have their own understanding of what the reality is.
Sadly, their notion of the reality in regard sustainable supply of rice is not backed up by the
realities on the ground. They are founded on highfalutin economic theories that will never
address the problem of food security and the development of rice farming in the country.

When policy makers zeroed in on the revenue that can be raised by slapping tariff on
imported rice, they are simply ensuring the extinction of rice farming in these parts and
corruption, of course.

Will there still be rice farmers among our local farmers if the market is flooded with
imported rice? And who will ensure that the flooding of imported rice in the local market
assures affordability of the good? Remember that based on experience the liberalization of
the oil industry did not result in lower petroleum prices. On the contrary, they became
horribly expensive.

Will the government be able to give the assurance that the imported rice flooding the
market will always be affordable? Of course, not. But if instead of adopting unhampered
importation of rice the government comes to the succor of the rice producing farmers by
truly addressing their perennial problems? Will this not result to a desired goal of having
such commodity produced locally to ensure food security?

May I reiterate the points I raised here in previous columns that the root cause of all
the woes in our agriculture sector is the policy of transferring ownership of big haciendas
and lands of the public domain to individual farmers through the much ballyhooed agrarian
reform program of the government.

We must all realize that food security can only be assured when big tracts of land are
planted to basic food crops. This goal can never be achieved by parceling out big tracts of
lands for distribution to farmers. This type of agrarian reform program is not only cosmetic,
it only props up the image of the Palace occupant but never addresses the problem.

Did you recall what President Duterte said when he ordered the distribution of lands
in Boracay Is. to the native farmers there? It is meant to give them something that in the
future they can sell for whatever purpose or reason. If this is the kind of logic behind the
government’s land reform program, indeed we will never achieve food security for our
country.

Mark my word on this. The current practice, official or tradition, in regard local
agriculture will never liberate us from all the woes we are suffering from until ownership of
agricultural lands will be reverted back to the State to have them tilled by farmers as
perpetual beneficial owners with the full support of the government as to inputs and
implements through mechanization. Private ownership of farmlands regardless of size
should be prohibited because as what our compatriots in the Cordilleras say, no person can
ever own the land.

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