MABALACAT CITY -- Farmers, fishermen, consumers and representatives from other sectors have signed a petition against Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the Rice Liberalization Law.
This came after the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) named Philippines as the world's top rice importer this year.
Some 50,000 signatures in support of "Petisyon ng Mamamayan para Ibasura ang Republic Act 11203 or Rice Liberalization Law" were submitted to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and Committee on Agriculture and Food Chairperson Representative Wilfrido Mark Enverga.
The petition was initiated by rice watch group Bantay Bigas, Amihan (National Federation of Peasant Women), Anakpawis Partylist, Gabriela Women's Party, National Food Authority Employees Association and Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson-Nueva Ecija (AMGL-NE).
Signatures were gathered from the top rice producing provinces, including Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Cagayan, Iloilo, Camarines Sur, Leyte, Tarlac and other provinces in Luzon, and Metro Manila.
Farmer and fisherfolk organizations, including Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas), Danggayan Dagiti Mannalon ti Cagayan Valley (Danggayan), Alyansa ng Magbubukid sa Gitnang Luson (AMGL), Katipunan ng mga Magbubukid sa Timog Katagalugan (Kasama TK), Kilusang Magbubukid ng Bicol (KMB), Bantay Bigas-Bicol, Panghugpong Sang mga Mangunguma sa Panay kag Guimaras (Pamanggas), Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura-Mindanao (Masipag-Mindanao), workers under Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), urban poor group Kadamay, women organization Gabriela, peasant advocates, youth and students in various universities also gathered signatures.
"Malinaw ang panawagan ng mga magsasaka, mamimili at ng mamamayan. Sa maikling panahon lamang ay nakalikom tayo ng 50,000 pirma. Bawat isang pirma ay puno ng pag-asa na pakikinggan ng mga mambabatas ang boses ng maliliit na mamamayan, lalo na ng mga magsasaka, na labis na napinsala ng liberalisasyon. Ang bawat isa ay nagsumikap na mangalap ng pirma para kahit sa maliit na paraan ay makatulong sa pagtataguyod ng lokal na industriya ng bigas," Amihan secretary general and Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estavillo said.
A bill pushing for the repeal of RA 11203 or House Bill (HB) 476 has already been filed in the Congress authored by Gabriela Women's Party Representative Arlene Brosas.
"More than seven months have passed after the law's implementation, farmers have already been bankrupt for two cropping seasons but the Duterte government has only provided P15,000 loans for farmers owning one hectare of land below and a commitment to give P5,000 worth of 'cash gift' this December. Parang pulubi ang trato ng gobyerno sa ating mga magsasaka samantalang sila ang nagpapakain sa sambayanang Pilipino," Estabillo said.
The groups blamed the government for blindly following its commitment to the World Trade Organization-Agreement on Agriculture (WTO-AoA) at the expense of the country's food security and self-sufficiency.
"Being the world's number one rice importer is not something to be proud of. It is ironic for an agricultural country and an insult for local rice farmers. Nagpapakahirap silang magtanim, hindi mabili sa makatwirang presyo ang produkto nila pero sobra-sobra ang imported na bigas sa bansa. This is a manifestation of a rice industry abandoned by its very own government by implementing neoliberal policies," Estavillo said.
The groups also called for the enactment of HB 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act (Rida) as an alternative.
The bill, filed by Makabayan lawmakers, includes production support program through socialized credit, farm inputs and machinery, accelerated infrastructure development including irrigation and post-harvest facilities, and research and development as its core programs with a budget allocation of P185 billion for its three-year implementation.
The National Food Authority has a proposed P310-billion budget for palay procurement to stabilize farm gate price and retail prices, the group said.
"We urge various farmer organizations, consumer groups and other rice stakeholders for an unwavering commitment to defend the Philippine rice industry by raging against Rice Liberalization Law, and attain genuine food security and self-sufficiency via Rida," Estavillo said.