The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) decried the apparently double standard that several Senators have recently adopted with regards to the liberalization in the trade of certain agricultural products, particularly sugar and rice.
Last February 6, 2019, ten (10) Senators introduced Senate Resolution No. 1014 opposing the proposal of the country’s economic managers to liberalize the sugar industry by allowing for the unimpeded entry of sugar imports. The Senators argued that the proposal will be “disastrous” to the sugar industry and would affect 84,000 farmers and 720,000 industry workers. The Resolution added that the proposal will “contradict the President’s thrust towards food security” and that there continued to be a need to safeguard “the economy and welfare of sugar farmers and industry workers in twenty-eight (28) provinces in the country”.
In September 2018, seven of the ten Senators who almost instantaneously lent their support to the sugar industry also signed Senate Committee Report 440 which became the primary basis for the Rice Tariffication Bill. The bill was signed into law by President Duterte last February 15, 2019 and removes all restrictions on rice imports and repeals NFA’s regulatory authority over the rice industry.
Raul Montemayor, National Manager of the FFF, questioned the hypocritical stance of the Senators in defending the sugar industry while pushing for the full liberalization of the rice sector. “The rice industry involves 25 times more farmers than the sugar sector, covers practically the whole country, and directly affects more than 10 million individuals. It is clearly more important to the country’s economy and food security than sugar. Yet, the Senators had no qualms about opening up the local market to unlimited volumes of imported rice while they were very quick in voicing their opposition to moves to liberalize sugar imports.”
Among the Senators who signed Senate Resolution 1014 was Senator Cynthia Villar, the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food and the main author of the Rice Tariffication bill. Senators Angara, Gatchalian, Ejercito, Gordon, Legarda, and Villanueva also signed both the resolution and the tariffication bill.
“We are against moves to liberalize the sugar industry. We understand their situation and we feel that the interests of consumers, processors and farmers can be addressed without having to open up the market to unlimited imports. What we in the rice sector are asking for is equal, fair and consistent treatment from the Senators. We cannot help but wonder what is it with the sugar industry that endears them to the Senators, and why millions of rice farmers appear to be less important and worthy of their support. Yet many of them, particularly those who are now campaigning for re-election, claim that they have the interests of farmers in their hearts.”