FARMERS said the government should focus on helping small farmers instead of imposing suggested retail price on rice, which they called a means for traders to take advantage of farmers.

“At this point when rice prices have normalized, government must focus on addressing the problems of small farmers, especially since the main harvest season is about to begin,” Raul Q. Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers, said in a statement.

“It may be true that some importers and traders are earning extraordinary profits at the expense of consumers. However, traders can again use the cap on rice prices as an excuse to buy at even lower prices from farmers,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) said it is seeking to rein in what it called “uncontrolled” market prices for rice by imposing a suggested retail price (SRP) system for the staple grain.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said the DA is currently drafting a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to implement the SRP system. This is expected to be signed within the month.

The Rice Tariffication Law, which freed up rice imports by private traders who must pay a 35% tariff on most of their shipments, particularly on rice from Southeast Asia, was passed March this year.

FFF noted that the current price of well-milled rice is higher than its price in 2016 and 2017, the years prior to the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law.

The Philippine Statistics Authority noted that well-milled rice was at P39.30 per kilo in the fourth week of June, compared with P37.13 for the equivalent week in 2016 and P37.74 in the corresponding 2017 period.

“The spike in prices in 2018 was abnormal and was caused by the refusal of the economic managers to allow the NFA to replenish its dwindling stocks. It was only when President Duterte intervened and allowed the NFA and the private sector to import that prices started to go down.

“Therefore, it is unrealistic to compare current prices against prices during the rice crisis in 2018. It is also deceptive to attribute the current decline in prices to the Rice Tariffication Law,” Mr. Montemayor said.

He also noted that the price of palay, or unmilled rice, have been in a downward trend, at an average of P17.85 per kilo, which is a 23% decline in farmgate price compared to a year earlier.

The price of palay, the form in which farmers sell their harvest, was P17.85 in the fourth week of June, also lower than the prevailing price in the same week of 2016 and 2017 P18.63 and P21.39, respectively.

The price of well-milled rice fell 13% year-on-year while that of regular-milled rice fell 16%.

“What is most painful to farmers is that their sacrifices are apparently going to waste because consumers are not getting the full benefits from the decline in palay prices and the entry of supposedly cheaper imports. The PSA data in fact appears to show that both consumers and farmers were better off when the quantitative restrictions were still in place, if we exclude the abnormal price movements in 2018,” he added. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang