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Watch Group Belies Marcos Claim Of Lowering Rice Prices

Watch Group Belies Marcos Claim Of Lowering Rice Prices
File photo taken by The Philippine STAR’s KJ Rosales shows President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. during his visit to a National Food Authority warehouse to inspect rice and other supplies to b sold at a Kadiwa store in Valenzuela City on Dec. 17, 2022.

A group involved in monitoring developments in the rice industry on Friday, March 17, belied President Marcos’ statement that his administration is nearing its goal of lowering rice price to P20 per kilo, saying it is “far from reality.”

In an interview, Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said the government needs at least P195 billion to subsidize the production of 25 percent of the total 19 million metric tons of annual palay harvest to be able to bring down the retail price of rice to P20 per kilo.

She said there is no more P38 per kilo rice in the market, as prices have gone up by P4 to P42 per kilo.

“The government needs big intervention if it wants to attain the P20 per kilo of rice. It needs to buy at least 25 percent of the local production as the farmgate price of palay is now at P23 per kilo for dry and P18 per kilo for fresh, so the government needs to buy palay through subsidies,” Estavillo said.

“The President has no concrete plan on the P20 per kilo of rice. It can only be attained if the government shoulders the cost of production of the farmers and at the same time, subsidize the retail prices of rice in the markets,” she added.

Estavillo noted that based on the monitoring of Bantay Presyo, the retail price of well-milled rice has increased by P4 per kilo and regular milled rice by P1 per kilo.

“The President mentioned that eight months ago while he was still campaigning. Now that he is also the secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the P20 per kilo is still far from the reality,” Estavillo said.

She said the government should instead bring back the P25 and P32 per kilo of rice of the National Food Authority to give consumers an option amid the spike in the retail price of commercial rice.

According to Estavillo, the implementation of Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law has failed to bring down the price of the staple.

“The lowest commercial rice is pegged at P42 per kilo. The P38 per kilo is no longer available. The government needs to implement price control on rice,” she said.

At the launch of the Kadiwa ng Pangulo program in Pili, Camarines Sur, Marcos said the government is shouldering the hidden costs in the transport of farmers’ produce so these could be sold to consumers at lower prices.

He added that his administration’s decision to increase the number of Kadiwa outlets – stores that offer lower-priced products – has yielded positive results.

Reducing the price of rice to P20 per kilo was one of the campaign promises of Marcos during the 2022 presidential race.

The staple is sold at P25 per kilo at Kadiwa outlets. The administration has so far launched more than 500 Kadiwa ng Pangulo outlets nationwide to help farmers and producers secure direct access to markets.

Possible, but…

Amid doubts raised by Bantay Bigas, Agriculture Assistant Secretary and deputy spokesman Rex Estoperez said Marcos’ promise of P20 per kilo rice is possible – but not immediately achievable.

“The President said that the price of rice is now P25 per kilo going to P20, that is possible. We should provide for the inputs of our farmers, so supposedly, we will give fertilizers, hybrid seeds and other needs for their productivity, in order to bring down the prices,” Estoperez said at a press conference. “For now, we cannot change it overnight. It seems we cannot yet achieve it (P20 per kilo of rice).”

On Thursday, Marcos said the government is inching toward its goal of lowering the price of rice to P20 per kilo.

Estoperez added that implementing the P20 per kilo of rice would depend on the availability of fertilizer.

“Right now, we are dependent on the importation of fertilizer. The war between Ukraine and Russia persists and we source the bulk of our fertilizer requirement from the said countries,” he pointed out.

He said the DA is also pushing for the procurement of more hybrid seeds to increase palay production in the country.

Estoperez also admitted that the retail price of rice in the local market has increased.

“We have enough supply of rice. It just happened that the retail price of rice increases during the summer harvest,” he said.

Based on the monitoring of the DA on Friday, the retail price of regular milled rice ranged between P34 and P40 per kilo; local well-milled rice, between P38 and P46 per kilo; local premium rice, between P42 and P49 per kilo and local special rice, between P48 and P60 per kilo.

For her part, Agriculture Assistant Secretary and spokesperson Kristine Evangelista said various measures should be implemented to achieve the President’s target of P20 per kilo.

“We need to implement proper post-harvest interventions to increase production and lower wastage. These are the measures to help bring down the price of palay,” Evangelista said.

She added that the DA also consults with peasant groups, particularly the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura or SINAG, on the problems of palay farmers.

“At least, we have already started to implement measures to bring down the price of rice. It is also important that the NIA (National Irrigation Administration) was transferred to the DA. We are also addressing the bottleneck on logistics that also add to the cost of rice,” she noted.

Japanese grant

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has approved a P25.2-million grant for financing four projects that aim to benefit, among others, farmers in the province of Camarines Sur.

Ambassador Koshikawa Kazuhiko signed four grant contracts under Grant Assistance for Grass-Roots Human Security Projects (GGP) on Thursday, March 16.

The Japanese embassy in Manila said one of the projects is for the construction of a food processing training center in Bombon, Camarines Sur for P3.6 million.

“Although efforts have been made in the region to reduce farmers’ poverty, the average income of farmers remains low, partly because many of them do not possess post-harvest processing skills,” it noted.

“The GGP project will enable the proponent to provide the needed capacity building to farmers on food processing through construction of a training facility and procurement of training equipment, with the aim to increase product values and income of the farmers in 10 target communities,” the Japanese embassy said.

The grant, roughly equivalent to $431,446, will also be used for the construction of a two-story six-classroom elementary school building, purchase of a transportation vehicle for sheltered children and acquisition of a water purification system for an elementary school and its surrounding community. – with an additional report from Michael Punongbayan