Smoke and mirrors mask dire situation surrounding rice prices as elections loom

Most political analysts describe former President Rodrigo Duterte as a populist but he wasn’t close to being one when it came to economic policies which he left to his finance secretary to set. The Rice Tarrification Law (RTL) was passed to put an end to rice subsidies and corruption at the National Food Authority (NFA) whose officials colluded with the members of the rice cartel to manipulate palay buying and retail prices of rice.

Now, just because of a promise made during the campaign of current President Bongbong Marcos, Congress has passed an amendment to the RTL, which will allow the NFA to import and sell rice to the public again. The president claimed he didn’t know that the Kadiwa stores were selling rice at P50.00 per kg. He claimed that it should only be at P29.00 based on their computation. This raised eyebrows among the public because they haven’t seen any retailer selling at the price the president claimed.

Relying on imports creates even more problems, unfortunately. Every rice exporting country knows we’re the biggest rice importer so good luck on being able to buy at a reasonable price. Southeast Asia has been hit by a heatwave which has affected agricultural productivity. Definitely these exporting countries will prioritize their needs first and sell the excess volume. This will impact the availability of rice sold in the export market which, in turn, affects what we can buy. It would appear that our lawmakers, or rather the president and his cousin, House Speaker Martin Romualdez, aren’t thinking straight. It is effectively the prelude to the midterm election which means that we are basically in the midst of the campaign period already so they throw caution to the winds in order to appease the masa for their votes.

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To be fair, rice prices also spiked in the same period of the Duterte administration. Without the RTL being passed yet, Duterte did what he could to bring down rice prices. He called the members of the rice cartel and more than likely threatened them. Rice prices came down to a level which made everybody happy. Duterte went into the midterm election of 2019 with a strong momentum that the administration ran two competing slates against the opposition. The then administration went on to win handily shutting out the opposition.

The actions of the present administration with regard to the issue of rice inflation doesn’t inspire confidence. Rather, it looks like the administration is running scared which is why they will resort to fooling the public by passing a law that only takes money from their left pocket and puts it in their right pocket. But overall, it is the public who loses, either way.

What we really need is modernization of farming techniques and the development of new farmers who are technologically adept. This, along with the consolidation of farm lands, will increase rice productivity. To effect this, bureaucratic reform is needed and it can’t be that the leadership in cabinet departments such as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), changes every six years. This is how we got into this mess to begin with.

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