Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) promises rice sufficiency at a cheap price for the public. But it is a plan that was doomed to fail from the very beginning for to liberalize the rice industry makes such scenario an impossibleshot in the dark.
As expected, the reactionary government, this time of the US-China-Duterte regime, deceptively rested a critical and urgent need of the people upon a neoliberal framework that actually serves the powerful elite. It utilized stale slogans such as ‘free trade’ and ‘competitiveness’to justify the flooding of imported rice. For reactionary legislators, the bulk arrival of rice with relatively lower prices will ensure adequate supply and then trigger the decrease of local rice prices.
But be it appalling ignorance or deliberate blindness to the state of the rice industry, these legislators and Rodrigo Duterte are not fooling anyone but themselves. Importing rice will neither cause local rice to sell at a more affordable price nor promote growth of the local industry. Instead, importers will have a field day with the unlimited amount of rice they can bring into the country. Revenue is so promising that even the San Miguel Corporation has dip its profiteering tentacles in rice importation. Meanwhile, traders will ignore the local supply that current feudal and semifeudal circumstances have rendered unfeasible to sell cheaply.
Rice farmers, on the other hand, are helpless. Farmers rarely own the land they till or the machinery they use. Just as rare is having any say on the rental rates of both,the division of harvest between the farmer and the landowner, the unfair interest rates for debts coveringthe high cost of production and the farm gate prices of their crop. Even the onslaught of crop-damaging calamities do not gather enough guarantee that such chokehold upon farmers will slacken.
On top of severe oppression that they have borne on their backs since they first broke ground with a hoe is the threat that the local rice industry itself is becoming obsolete. For rice mill workers and retailers, as well as employees of the National Food Authority, job security is a thing of the past. A self-reliant rice industry is a forgotten and foregone ideal. With RTL, staying afloat is hard enough as it is.
Not a few economists have already warned that the Philippine government does not control the international supply and price of rice. Limited supply will cause a price hike. The Philippines will have to bid out other countries for the measly 9% of rice that is available for importation. Foreign exchange, vis-à-vis a weak peso value, also affects the price of imported commodities.
What will therefore happen is that there will be imported rice in the market, but hardly accessible to the public. There will be rice, but no local rice industry to speak of. There will be rice, but nomore jobs for those working at the struggling rice industry. A vast majority of the people will suffer the effects of this particular neoliberal attack literally right to the pit of their stomachs.
REACTIONARY GOVERNMENTS will implement reactionary laws. The RTL is doomed to fail because adequate and affordable rice is never the intention of the US-China-Duterte regime. It implemented RTL in keeping with the commitments made to the ASEAN (or Association of SouthEast Asian Nations), the World Trade Organization and other neoliberal formations.
From 1980 to 2010, the agricultural sector’s contribution to the gross domestic product decreased from a third to a mere one-twelfth. Its average growth did not even reach 3% from 1980 to 2000, a far cry from 7.4% during the 1970s. Yet, within the agricultural sector, it is the agribusiness side which prospered to 15%. Foreign companies dominated it and controlled prices of seeds, commercial fertilizer and other farm inputs. They are the ones behind ‘contract-growing’ where export crops (cassava, palm, rubber, etcetera) are a priority. As of 2016, so-called agrarian venture agreements cover 1.2 million hectares of agricultural land and runs from five to 75 years.Farmers also lose their parcels of land to these companies whichaim to operate plantations. If not, they face large-scale logging and mining companies which employ armed units to protect their business interests.
Agricultural liberalization, or any form of liberalization, privatization (also called commercialization or corporatization), deregulation and denationalization never served anyone but those already wielding political and economic power. Duterte and his lackeys have marked their own selfish interests at the cost of the Filipino people’s main source of nourishment, not to mention the source of livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Filipino families. Even the promised Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund will only serve the personal granaries of those controlling the fund. The anomalously used funds from tobacco excise taxes is more than enough proof that such funds hardly reach the grassroots level.
The Filipino people can achieve ample and accessible rice supply only through the agrarian revolution currently waged at the countryside as one key component of the People’s Democratic Revolution. The maximum program of land distribution will ensure increased levels of rice production while doing away with usurious interest rates and exorbitant farm inputs. Agricultural methods will not remain backward and any mechanization will fall under collective ownership and operation. Collective action will ensure preparedness against calamities and resilience against any damage it might cause. Local Communist party groups and organs of democratic political power, with the assistance of units of the New People’s Army, are leading the peasant masses in accomplishing their economic and political programs.
The neoliberal RTL is but a deathbed that Duterte and his greedy lapdogs prepared for the local rice industry. Together with the rest of the Filipino people, the countryside population will stand up against Duterte’s ma