Farmers blame rice tariffication law for low palay prices, a lawmaker blames a natural disaster

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 3)— Senator Cynthia Villar, one of the main proponents of the rice tariffication act, doubted that the measure pushed unmilled rice prices down.

This, after several farmers groups claimed that prices of palay have plummeted to ₱6-10 per kilo.

"Based on the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), the average buying price of palay is ₱17," Villar said at a Senate hearing Tuesday.

She also refuted the claims of the farmers that rice should cost ₱21 per kilo.

"The only time it was ₱21 was last year, wherein we were in a difficult period," Villar said.

The price of rice was among the main drivers of last year's high inflation, which hit an average rate of 5.2 percent.

To combat this, President Rodrigo Duterte passed the rice tariffication act, which took effect this year. The measure eased import restrictions on rice, which improved the supply in the country.

However, farmers claimed that they're finding it hard to compete with the oversupply of imported rice.

Farmers said the PSA data does not match the reality that they are facing.

"Ang data ng PSA mukhang hindi nagmamatch sa reality sa ground. As of last night nagmonitor kami practically all over the country pinakamataas ₱17, [Translation: PSA's data does not match reality on the ground. As of last night, we monitored practically all over the country and the highest was ₱17.]" said Romeo Royandoyan, executive director of Centro Saka. He added that traders buy unmilled rice at ₱8 per kilo in Nueva Ecija.

Representatives from Bantay Bigas, another farmers' organization, said that unmilled rice prices hit ₱6 per kilo in Arayat Pampanga.

On the other hand, Villar attributed low rice prices to natural disasters.

"It's caused by natural disaster na to para dumapa. Ba't dadapa? Disaster nga, typhoon," Villar said.

[Translation: Rice plants were damaged because of natural disasters. Why would they be damaged? It's disaster. Typhoon. ]

High moisture content from heavy rains can damage rice stocks, according to the senator. Villar called on the National Food Authority to buy unmilled rice. She also told farmers to sell their rice to the provincial government.

In an interview with CNN Philippines Politics as Usual, Senator Imee Marcos took Villar's side.

"Para sa akin, hindi naman niya kasalanan. Talagang uncompetitive na ang ating agrikultura," Marcos said.

[Translation: For me it's not Villar's fault. Our agriculture sector is just not competitive.]

On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture acknowledged that local rice prices could be adversely affected by rice tariffication.

"There's a recognition na meron siyang epekto kaya tinitingnan natin kung ano ang dapat agad nating gawin," Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Ayanan said.

[Translation: We recognize that it has an effect, so we're looking at what we can do to immediately solve it.]

A supposed ₱10 billion fund should be collected from tariffs on imported rice. The rice tariffication law states that this fund should be used to improve the livelihood of local rice farmers.

READ: Agriculture dep't: Rice farmer support fund benefits to be realized by end of the year