MANILA - Marginal farmers are going to suffer from the rice tariffication bill recently signed into law by President Rodrigo Duterte, said former Senator Sergio "Serge" Osmeña III.
"Those that are only making about 70-80 cavans a hectare will suffer because the wholesale price and the retail price will go down to about P40," Osmeña said on ABS-CBN News Channel's (ANC) Headstart.
But while P40 is still "pretty good," he said the price of the basic staple needs to go down further.
"So, I suggest every year or every 2 years, we bring down the tariff of the [imported] rice from 35 to 30 [percent], then from 25 to 20 [percent]; and from 15 then to 10 [percent]," he said.
Osmeña said that in Thailand, the retail value of rice is P22 per kilo, while it is between P40 to P45 a kilo here.
He stressed that the 109-million Filipino rice eaters cannot spend about 17 percent of their income on just the rice.
"That's for the ordinary, regular Filipino family. But for the poor, they spend about 20 to 25 to 30 percent of their income on a kilo of rice. That is too much," he said.
Bringing down the cost by half would mean more money left to buy viands and other needs, he said.
"We have to think of 109-million Filipino consumers first before we think of the 2 million rice farmers," he said. "The rice farmers, I think about one and a half million of them will be OK but the other half million are going to suffer unless they can come up with lower cost of production."
Farmers, he said, could grow other crops like cacao or peanuts, which would give them additional income other than just rice farming.
The rice tariffication law, which local farmers opposed, will replace the present quotas on rice imports with tariffs.
In defending the measure, Duterte said it would address the urgent need to improve availability of rice in the country, prevent artificial rice shortages, reduce the prices of rice in the market, and curtail corruption and cartel domination in the rice industry.
To assist local farmers who are expected to be hit by the removal of rice import restrictions, the measure provides for a rice competitiveness enhancement fund or “rice fund.”
"Right now, the farmer must suffer a little bit because of this tariffication but we will give him P25-B worth of help every year," said Osmeña.
He said this would help farmers mechanize, make them use certified seeds, aside from subsidizing the cost of fertilizer.
"It all depends on how efficient our bureaucracy is. I hope it will happen soon," he said, when asked how soon the benefits or the safety measures of the law would kick in.
Osmeña is running as an independent in the May 13 midterm elections.