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Magtanim ay ‘di biro: Rice Liberalization Law backfires

“What affects the farmers the most is the all-time low prices of their copra and palay and there is nothing else to be blamed for this but the anti-farmers program Rice Tariffication Law and the perpetual negligence of the government towards the agriculture sector.”



Farmers and militant groups rallying in front Mendiola Gate in Manila on Oct. 21, 2019 | Jaime Taganas/TomasinoWeb

The promise of Rice Liberalization Law (RLL) to aid both the Filipino farmers and consumers falls short as it devastates the palay industry and the livelihood of local rice farmers.

Fifty-eight-year old Dominador Abarcar’s outcry are the lack of irrigation in their farming land and the incessant rice imports which continuously strike heavy blows in the price of his palay.

“Kasi sa dami ng mga [iniimport na bigas dito], naaapektuhan kami dito kasi nako-kontrol yung price ng palay dito sa amin,” the farmer from San Nicolas, Pangasinan told TomasinoWeb in a phone interview.

He said that they were left with no choice but to trade with the buyers in their area from whom they have loans because they needed the money for their livelihood.

“The Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) had to be enacted to liberalize the importation of rice with tariff…allowing the Philippines to limit rice imports for a specific period of time in order to give the Philippines enough time to make our rice farmers competitive,” Senator Cynthia Villar, the primary author of RLL, said in a statement sent to TomasinoWeb.

“The rice farmers will benefit by reducing their production costs, increasing their farm yields, and ultimately raising incomes,” she said.

10-billion pesos, according to Villar, will also be allotted for rice farmers through the creation of Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under RLL. This includes farm equipment and technology, assistance programs, irrigation projects, and fertilizers.

In addition to RCEF, excess to the tariff collected by the Bureau of Customs from rice importers beyond the 10 billion pesos will be distributed to rice farmers in the form of unconditional cash transfer.

“[Y]ung sa irrigation wala ho eh. Walang nagpopondo sa amin,” Abarcar said when asked about how the local government acts on their irrigation problems.

For him, the adverse effects of RLL which now burden many farmers like him will only be resolved if the entry of imported rice will cease and if the National Food Authority (NFA) will take in charge of the palay trade in the country.

“Ang gusto namin sana totoo yung sinasabi ni Rodrigo Duterte na…wala nang papasok na imported na bigas dito sa amin… na hahawakan na ng NFA yung sa magsasaka,” Abarcar said.

Farmers from Western Samar have also been lamenting over the same absence of government assistance after the devastation brought by El Niño last year.

“Nagpupunta sila doon [sinasabing] tutulungan kaming magsasaka. Tinatanong ko nga isa isa kung ano [ang]  ikaaangat ng mahihirap na magsasaka. Ang sinasabi [nila] bibigyang puhunan para maka-angat naman,” farmer Allan Labong said. “[Hanggang] ngayon hindi pa naman ‘yon dumadating.”

In an official statement released by Stand with Samar-Leyte Network, Eastern Visayas region was once the primary source of copra and palay but now it has been experiencing a decrease in production since 2013 after the onslaught of supertyphoon Yolanda.

“What affects the farmers the most is the all-time low prices of their copra and palay [which] now plummeted at 10 pesos and below [and there] is nothing else to be blamed for this but the anti-farmers program Rice Tariffication Law and the perpetual negligence of the government towards the agriculture sector…” it said.

Agricultural crisis

Research group IBON media said that government’s “long-time neglect and chronically low prioritization” of the agriculture sector gave rise to the agriculture crisis.

“This is in line with government’s advancement of neoliberal policies favoring local and foreign big business. The Duterte government continues this by giving minimal support to the agriculture sector.” IBON said.

Signs that the crisis is worsening, according to IBON, include the declining share in gross domestic product and agricultural productivity per capita, increasing import dependence, rising trade deficit, and widespread rural poverty.

“The agriculture sector’s share in the economy has [shrunken] from over 40% in the 1960s to less than 10% in 2018,” they said.

Reduction of all forms of loans, according to IBON, including amortization for awarded lands, and substantial increase in support and subsidies for the agriculture and agrarian reform sectors are the immediate steps that should be done by the government to alleviate the agriculture crisis.

“It should also suspend, and eventually repeal, policies like the Rice Liberalization Law, that are harming domestic production and farmers’ livelihoods,” they added.

“But to truly strengthen domestic agriculture, [the] government needs to implement long-term policies that prioritize rural development over big business interests.”

‘Man-made calamity’

Civic leaders expressed their resentment and disapproval of the RLL in several interviews with TomasinoWeb during a farmers’ rally in Mendiola last October 2019.

For former representative of Anakpawis party-list and chairman of the farmers militant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Rafael “Ka Paeng” Mariano, the RLL is a “catastrophic man-made calamity” as it destroys the livelihood of farmers and the agriculture sector in which the country’s staple food is sourced.

“Talagang salot ‘yan, hindi lamang sa kabuhayan ng ating mga magsasaka—pangunahin ‘yon—kung hindi salot ‘yan sa lokal nating produksiyon ng palay, bigas, at pagkaing butil sa bansa, bilang staple food natin ‘yan,” Mariano said.

He also mentioned that the RLL itself violates the constitution: “…Sa 1987 Constitution, malinaw doon na may pertinenteng probisiyon [na] nagtatadhanang ‘the state shall defend the right of a family to a family-living wage and income.’ ‘Di ba labag ‘yon?”

“Sa declaration of principle and state policies na nagsasabi yung Section 19: ‘The state shall develop a self-reliant and independent national economy effectively controlled by Filipinos.’ ‘Di ba labag ‘yang pinirmahan ni Duterte na ‘yan?” he added.

Rice insufficiency

According to IBON, Duterte government has painted a picture that the country can never be rice self-sufficient.

“Rice import dependency ratio declined from 9% in 1990 to 5% in 2016. But this rose to 6.6% in 2017 and is expected to be higher due to the influx of rice imports under the Rice Liberalization Law,” they said.

Villar stated otherwise: “We are not depending on rice imports. The RCEF will enable the 947 rice producing towns to mechanize by giving them machines at the rate of P5B/year where each town shall be receiving P5M a year for the next six years.”

“Filipino rice farmers will become more competitive and the Philippines will become rice sufficient,” she added.

Mariano similarly stressed that if the palay industry dwindles amid a subsequent global food crisis, the local food security will be at risk.

“Hindi tayo dapat umasa sa pandaigdigang pamilihan kasi kahit may dolyar tayo…kung wala ka namang maangkat na bigas—Traditionally itong mga rice exporting countries malaunan niyan, ‘pag tinamaan din itong climate change, bumaba ang kanilang lokal na rice production, so maghihigpit ‘yan at hindi na rin sila mag-eexport ng kanilang bigas,” he said.

IBON maintained that RLL jeopardizes the country’s food security: “The Philippines has now embarked on imports liberalization of its staple – a dangerous path not just for the country’s food security, but more importantly, for that elusive economic development.”

NFA’s road to demise

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Aside from the “drought” in support and subsidy for the farmers, Mariano said the “neoliberal economic policies na liberalization, deregulation, privatization” of the RTL will soon lead to the privatization of the NFA.

Mariano and Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes expressed the same sentiments that the RLL should be revoked to regulate again the rice import and called for the strengthening of NFA for it to influence palay price.

“Ang first thing na kailangan gawin is to reverse the decline dun sa livelihood. So tatanggalin mo yung Rice Tariffication Law [at] i-reregulate mo yung import. Puwede magpasa ng legislation that can strengthen the NFA. Increase its budget and its purchasing [capacity] para sa domestic rice producers,” Reyes said.

“Kailangan ng NFA ang 40 billion pesos para at least mabili niya at least yung 10 percent ng total palay production natin sa bansa,” Mariano said.

Mariano explained that there should be a “floor price” in the price of rice and palay to avoid too much fluctuation because there is no reason for the price of local rice to increase.

“Dahil ang rule of thumb diyan, ‘pag bumili ka ng 20 pesos per kilo ng palay, multiplied by 70 percent—‘yon na yung dagdag na cost to produce one kilo of rice—so 14 pesos. Idadagdag mo lang 14 pesos sa 20 pesos, so dapat presyo ng bigas 34 pesos […] may kita na ang retailers. […] Eh magkano presyo ngayon?…38 pesos to 44. Walang dahilan para tumaas yung presyo ng bigas,” he said.

“Kung NFA naman ang bibili no’n, puwede pa rin. Kung well milled rice, binili mo ng locally produced, P20 clean and dry sa magsasaka, so puwede mong ibenta pa rin ng P30 ang release price kung well milled rice, at P25 per kilo kung regular milled rice. May subsidy,” he said. “Yung subsidy na ‘yon ituring na social cost, hindi financial losses para sa NFA,” Mariano said.

Mariano also explained that the privatization of the NFA will limit its operations because its buying of palay will be limited only to its buffer stock or the rice consumption good for 15 to 30 days, and will only serve during emergency situations. In addition, only private businesses will sell rice in the country making it difficult to know the total rice inventory of the country.

Meanwhile, UST Political Science Department Chairperson Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion, Ph.D. said that removing NFA will also remove the regulating mechanism or office in the country’s agricultural sector.

“Ang purpose naman kasi ng NFA is to regulate ‘yung market. Probably ‘yung regulation mechanism or office, ‘pag tinanggal mo wala nang magre-regulate. Who else will set the price? You don’t expect the market in setting the price or prices to think of the welfare of the consumers. […] It’s the role of the state,” Coronacion told TomasinoWeb in an exclusive interview.

Mariano and Bantay Bigas spokesperson Cathy Estabillo also called for the enactment of laws that will truly support the agriculture of the country such as the House Bill Resolution No. 477 or the Rice Industry Development Act and Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill or the Free Land Distribution Bill.

“[At saka] lang magiging competitive ang ating magsasaka kung yung mga pangangailangan nila, yung [kasiguraduhan] dun sa lupang sinasaka nila, subsidized loans, subsidized inputs, at the same time, ay tiyakin na mataas binibili yung palay ng ating mga magsasaka sa pamamagitan ng NFA,” Estabillo said.

Build or destroy?

“Build-Build-Build” projects of the government, according to Mariano, affect much of the agriculture sector which shrink the agricultural lands in the country.

“Paubos nang paubos ang ating agricultural lands. Eh ang agricultural lands lang naman ang klasipikasyon ng lupa sa ating bansa na puwedeng…ireclassify. Eh ‘pag hindi natin pinrotektahan ‘yan mauubos yung agricultural lands natin,” he said.

“’Yang mga Build-Build projects na ‘yan na malalaking highways sumasagasa sa ating mga productive agricultural lands. Lalo na yung mga irrigated rice lands natin. Eh dito sa norte meron tayong NLEX, SCTEX, TPLEX… Babagtasin no’n humigit kumulang 400 hectares of productive rice—irrigated rice lands,” Mariano added.

Women farmers, affected families

For Estabillo, who is also the secretary-general of the national federation of peasant women AMIHAN, the “all-time-low” palay price affect not just the farmers’ livelihood but also displaced women farmers.

“‘Yung kababaihang magsasaka marami ang umaalis sa kanilang komunidad para maghanap ng mapagkakakitaan sa mga bayan-bayan kahit na katulong, labandera, nagtitinda-tinda. At saka ang masakit, siyempre, iniiwan nila yung mga anak,” she said.

Aside from affecting their families, there is also a possibility of farmers losing their lands due to the continuous deficits in their palay production and livelihood.

“Andun din yung tendency na nare-remata yung kanilang mga bukid dahil naisangla [ito] para makakuha ng puhunan, para makapagtanim ng palay. Pero dahil dalawang beses na silang luging-lugi, mas mataas yung porsyento na nareremata at naibebenta na nila yung kanilang mga bukirin,” Estabillo said.

“Ang usapin sa pagkain ay usapin ng buong mamamayang Pilipino. […] Sana maging bahagi [tayo] dun sa iba’t ibang kampanyang inilulunsad ng ating mga magsasaka dahil tanging sa pagpapatupad ng tunay na reporma sa lupa maa-attain natin yung kasiguraduhan natin sa pagkain,” she added.



Persecution, not activism, besets student leaders

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged, and they were either in the student councils or were vying for the positions. 



Ian Patrick Laqui/TomasinoWeb

A student leader’s affiliation with a human rights organization resulted in his non-readmission in the next academic term, igniting suspicions of a university administration-led witch hunt among Thomasians. 

Since last year, several student activists have been red-tagged by the school administration, along with the right-wing organization “The Right Thomasian.” The red-tagged students were either in the student council or were vying for the positions. 

The hunt first plagued student activists at the University of Santo Tomas, but at present, even student leaders are no longer exempted. They are also primary targets. 

Witch hunt, defined as an attempt to find and punish a particular group of people who are blamed for something, often because of their opinions and not because they have done anything wrong.

Shoti Ampatuan made headlines in January after being persecuted for “joining unrecognized organizations.” The show-cause order released by the University barred him from enrolling in the next academic year. 

Ampatuan was also removed from his head council position in the Senior High School Student Council (SHS-SC) , and was denied his certificate of good moral character, which is an essential requirement for admission in some schools.

“I became worried about my safety, knowing that it became rampant [and] that even my former school and teachers knew about this,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

Ampatuan revealed that his mental health deteriorated due to threatening and intimidating social media comments, which overwhelmed him, having almost five months left to serve in the student council. 

I feel like may pagkukulang ako knowing na I still have four to five remaining months to prove myself, to prove that the council prepared a lot from the body and the constituents,” Ampatuan said.

‘I never felt safe’

Avery Alo, another SHS student and a presidential candidate in the SHS-SC elections, also faced charges from the SHS administration, and a parent accused him of recruiting students to join Anakbayan. 

Alo almost had the same fate as Amputan but was acquitted on Feb. 15 due to a “lack of sufficient evidence.” He “never felt safe” after the incident and receiving threats and intimidation through SMS. 

Nandoon pa rin po ‘yung threat of being sent a show cause letter or being red-tagged, and I think ‘yon po ang isa sa mga effects sa akin ng red-tagging, like I never felt safe anymore in our university,” he said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Honestly, I was scared na baka matulad po ‘yung nangyari kay Kuya Shoti na mangyari din sa akin, because alam naman po natin na tinanggal po siya sa council then ‘di po siya bibigyan ng good moral […] I feared for my stay in the university,” he said.

He expressed concern that UST is being used as a tool for the witch-hunting of progressive groups and called for the administration to change specific provisions to prevent further incidents.

I think po it’s high time po para baguhin ‘yung mga provisions na ‘yon kasi it does not do anything [good] to the students,” Alo said.

“It does not help them to improve upon themselves which is lagi nila pong sinasabi ng aming admin na tutulungan daw nila po kami na mas maging better students, which in that case, it only endangers students and it does not even help us in any way,” he added.

Unwarranted labelling

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Jeric Mataga, a second-year IICS student, was in the middle of his virtual miting de avance speech on April 30 when the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) ordered him to change his background showing a protest. 

“I’m literally going to talk about red-tagging here and they’re going to red-tag me because of my background,” Mataga said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

When asked about his thoughts on OSA’s alleged red-tagging, Mataga said the students deserve fairness and justice rather than unwanted labelling.

“There are many things much worse than student activism. Keep that in mind. The students deserve fairness and justice, not unwarranted scrutiny and red-tagging,” he added.

As a student activist himself, Mataga advocated for the formation of the student’s code to amplify students’ voices.

He has also been red-tagged The Right Thomasian, which is no stranger to committing such acts. It notoriously labeled student leaders, ordinary students, and even professors in the university.

Nagalit ako. Sa dami-daming pwedeng gawin sa buhay, mangrered-tag ka pa. ‘Di ka na nga nakatulong, nakakapahamak ka pa ng tao,” he said in an interview.

In facing the threats and labelling, Mataga “did not even flinch,” saying that he would probably stop doing his advocacies if he is scared.

Bakit ako matatakot? Kung sa simpleng troll page lang natakot ako e ‘di matagal na akong tumigil sa mga pinaglalaban kong advocacies,” he said.

Mataga “chose to ignore” the threats and red-tagging, saying that they should receive less attention. 

Dr. Mark Abenir, a Development Studies Faculty from the Ateneo de Manila University and former Professor from the UST Department of Sociology, warned that red-tagging the youth and student leaders is dangerous.

Kapag ang bata may napansin siya kung anong mali, sasabihin niya kung anong mali. Ganun din ang kabataan because of what they’ve learned in school [or] university [which] are the things that should be done ideally,” Abenir said in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

“Once we red-tag the youth, we tell them to shut up. We tell them to stop contributing to critical progress. We tell them to stop telling what is wrong in society. And if the youth stop telling us that, it will be a dark future,” he said.

Abenir strongly believes that institutions should be bastions of academic freedom.

“As institutions, we should be bastions of academic freedom kung saan ang tamang paniniwala natin ay pwede nating iexpress. Because nagnu-nurture ka ng future generations and you want [those] future generations to speak out,” he added.


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Community pantries address food insufficiency but gov’t must address food security—Simbahayan director

According to Froilan Alipao, there is a problem with society if people will continue to rely on community pantries for a long time. 



KINDNESS STATION—UST Simbahayan and the Santisimo Rosario Parish opens their community pantries in P. Noval and Dapitan streets on April 24. Photo grabbed from Santisimo Rosario Parish’s Facebook page.

While community pantries help address the food insufficiency in the Philippines, government officials must also look into more sustainable solutions to achieve food security, the director of UST Simbahayan said Saturday, April 24. 

According to Froilan Alipao, who is also a faculty member of the University’s sociology department, there is a problem with society if people will continue to rely on community pantries for a long time. 

“Community pantry is an immediate response because there is a need for food. Pero ang pangit naman kung habang panahon may community pantry ka. Ibig sabihin niyan, […] walang malaking tsansa ang mga tao na they can produce their own food or they can purchase their own food. Ibig sabihin, may issue with food security,” he told TomasinoWeb. 

The community pantries, according to Alipao, should also help empower citizens and encourage them to participate in governance.

“Yun bang mga pumila, ‘yung mga mahihirap, na-oorganize ba sila para tumayo rin sila sa sariling paa o ma-realize nila ‘yung dignity nila and rights sa society? Ma-oorganize ba ‘yung mga tao na later magiging active participants sila sa governance,” he said.

He also stressed that sustainable development should also include environmental stability that will cater to the “whole society, especially the marginalized and poor sectors.” 

Government vs. community pantries

Malacañang denied on April 19 that community pantries were established as a result of government incompetence, and told the public to stop politicking amid the pandemic.

“Itong mga community pantry nagpapakita na bayanihan ang umiiral, hindi bangayan. […] Sa panahon ng surge na ito, kinakailangan po talaga sama-sama tayong mga Pilipino. Kung hindi tayo magtutulungan, sino pang magtutulungan?” Palace spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing. 

But according to Alipao, the hunger and poverty experienced by Filipinos goes to show that the government is not doing its job.

“Nakikita mo ang gutom at kahirapan—at ‘yun ang totoo, hindi ‘yun myth. Ibig sabihin niyan, […] they are not really doing their role as a government—to protect and to promote the welfare of the people,” he said.

The Simbahayan director also urged the government and the private sector to come up with long-term solutions to the country’s problems.

Solidarity not socialism

The community pantry “movement,” according to Alipao, is a form of solidarity which helps those who have little to no food to eat.

“Food is a felt need ng karamihan na walang hanapbuhay, lockdown, saan ka kukuha?  So sabihin natin na religiously, kung titingnan mo, miracle. Pero sa sociological and social science term, solidarity—‘yung pakikiisa doon sa mga tao basically sa pagkain,” he shared.

He added that he calls this a “movement” because many people took the initiative to put up their own community pantries without expecting any funding.

“Pero with a starting point of community pantry at talagang maraming sumunod, nag-advocate, sumupport, doon sa community pantry, ‘yung iba nagtayo na, nagkaroon na siya ng isang movement. Movement siya kasi dumami ‘yung gumaya without any expecting resources from any specific group—it is really community mobilization,” he explained.

Although he agrees that the community pantries show a “semblance of socialism,” Alipao mentioned that he is more comfortable with the term “solidarity.”

“[T]here’s a semblance of socialism—‘yung you will share your resources and then you get what you need, kasi that’s one of the principles of socialism. But on a small scale, I think parang solidarity is a form of sharing,” he said 

So in that particular scenario, food for example, in a very particular period of time like this, we can show our solidarity,” he added.

Alipao added that it is up to society to put a label on the new phenomenon. He also lauded Filipinos for their willingness to help amid disasters, highlighting that it is the country’s “cultural asset.”

“May espirito ang Pilipino na kahit anong hirap, tumutulong—and that would be a good cultural asset. And I think the community pantry, why it became a phenomenon that people are supporting, is because of the cultural assets or cultural capital of the Filipino people,” he said.

UST’s Community Pantry

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The UST Simbahayan and the Santisimo Rosario Parish opened their community pantries on April 25, which were placed in Gates 7 and 10 of the University in Dapitan and P. Noval streets.

These pantries, called “Kindness Stations,” are only operational every Sunday morning from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. 

However, Alipao said that on Mondays to Saturdays, UST also contributes to the community pantry in P. Noval street organized by the owner of Mang Toots, Toots Vergara.

Community pantries became popular in the country after small business owner Ana Patricia Non opened the Maginhawa Community Pantry on April 14, which is now located at 108 Maginhawa St., Teachers Village East in Quezon City.


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#TWenty: TomasinoWeb’s year-end 2020 special

The first year of the decade greeted us with grueling challenges. What’s next?



(Artwork by Patricia Jardin/TomasinoWeb)

A letter from the editor

By the time I am writing this, the clock has struck 3 a.m. The world is serene in these hours, almost unfamiliar and could be mistaken as the midnights of the yesteryears; what differs 2020 is the renditions of pandemonium that the day and night await.

I remember reading a similar article where my former editor mentioned that 2017 was a terrible year. Fast forward to now, it is amusing yet saddening how we thought we have experienced the worst. It turns out that there is more. It is almost like we are all floating in time rooting for the coming year just to escape this hellhole we have been to.

This year greeted us in its own fashion with the explosion of the Taal Volcano. It later followed the unfortunate widespread of COVID-19 which singlehandedly formed how 2020 would turn out to be.

Death is undeniably a common denominator in this list. With the murder of many Philippine activists, the passing of baby River, and the killing of the Gregorios, 2020 has further emphasized the blatant abuse of human rights and the rampant neglect of the ruling class to the Filipino people. Pardon was given to a murderer and one of the country’s biggest media networks was forcibly shut down. On top of that, a P15 billion-peso health fund mysteriously dissipated into thin air.

There are a million narratives untold; all of which deserve to be known especially those that speak of struggle, resilience, and hope. As student journalists, we have told too many stories of loss and many of them are impossible to bear. We look forward to meeting better days soon as we fight for what we truly deserve: hope, recovery, and a breakthrough.

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I would like to congratulate you, dear reader, for making it through this year. May we continuously fight for our rights and for our brothers and sisters who did not make it with us at the end of the year.

With all that said, I present you #TWenty: the TomasinoWeb year-end 2020 special.

For a better country, press freedom, and human rights.

Alive and breathing,

Brin Raizulli Isaac
Executive Editor



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