Genuine agrarian reform, rice industry development as alternatives to tariffication

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“The Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) bill seeks to lift our rice industry from a multi-dimensional crisis that wasted away its productive capability, stunted its development and forestalled the country’s attainment of food security.”

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Farmers and advocates are pushing for the passage of Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill (GARB) and Rice Industry Development Act (RIDA) as alternatives to the policies imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which they said exacerbated the sorry situation of the Philippine agriculture.

The rice tariffication bill awaiting President Rodrigo Duterte’s signature is a commitment of the Philippines to the WTO. The bill removes quantitative restrictions on imported rice and replaces them with a 35-percent tariff for ASEAN-member nations and 50-percent tariff for non-ASEAN.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) described the bill as the “killing blow to the already ailing rice industry.”

Bantay Bigas Spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said that to address genuinely the rice crisis, the Duterte administration should prioritize the development of agriculture, starting off with free land distribution and provision of adequate support services and subsidy to farmers to decrease the cost of production.

Estavillo said that the Makabayan bloc at the House of Representatives already filed House Bill No. (HBN) 555 (GARB) and HBN 8512 (RIDA). The first () was filed on June 30, 2016 while the second (http://www.congress.gov.ph/legisdocs/basic_17/HB08512.pdf) was filed on October 17, 2018.

Rationale

GARB proponents said that land monopoly is a big factor in the stagnation of the Philippine agriculture, pointing out the failure of the three-decade Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP). In their explanatory note, they declared that CARP “had been nothing but an institutionalized buy-and-sell transaction between the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the supposed farmer beneficiary.”

Despite CARP and the previous agrarian reform programs, seven out of 10 farmers remain landless, according to Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas.

For the proponents, distributing land to the tillers is the first step to developing agriculture. The authors said “The bill seeks to lift our rice industry from a multi-dimensional crisis that wasted away its productive capability, stunted its development and forestalled the country’s attainment of food security,that agrarian reform is the best solution to underdevelopment.

Authors of GARB also filed the RIDA bill, which they described as tandem legislation to the GARB “as it stands on the free land distribution of GARB in addressing the root cause of the crisis of our rice industry.”

“The bill seeks to lift our rice industry from a multi-dimensional crisis that wasted away its productive capability, stunted its development and forestalled the country’s attainment of food security,” the explanatory note read.

Salient features of RIDA

The bill aims to develop the domestic rice industry within a mandated fixed schedule and increase its productivity to achieve food security through food-reliance and self-sufficiency. The 42-page bill proposes a P495-billion budget for the “Three-Year Implementation Plan,” which is composed of Rice Production Socialized Credit Program (P25 billion); Accelerated Irrigation Development Program (P45 billion and P20 billion for rehabilitation and repair, respectively); Post-Harvest Facilities Development Program (P30 billion); Farm Inputs Support Program (P50 billion); Research and Development and Extension Services Program (P15 billion); and National Food Authority’s local procurement program (P310 billion).

RIDA’s key provisions are a clear declaration food security is based on the country’s self-sufficiency and not by importation; protection of rice lands from land-use conversion; strengthening of the National Food Authority by condoning its existing loan obligations, increasing the buying price of palay (unhusked rice) and lowering the selling price to the poor; strengthening the security of tenure of rice farmers; formation of Local Rice Supply Security Councils to address the state of hunger at the town level; and establishment of a National Rice Supply Security Council to assess any rice crisis and to stabilize prices.

Under the bill, all farmers are considered beneficiaries of its component programs but priority is given to those who till less than three hectares and those with an annual income below the rural poverty line.

As of this writing, both bills remain at the committee level at the House of Representatives widely perceived to be landlord dominated. ()

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