Our farmers deserve a ‘Merry Christmas’ too

December has come—my favorite month. By this time, we would have started hearing the songs of Christmas and feeling that excitement of buying gifts whose prices were put on a huge discount. I am unsure about the other countries, but in the Philippines, you would expect the so-called certified titas, or aunties in English, storming the supermarkets and department stores as early as now to take advantage of the huge sale on groceries before they go skyrocketing as Christmas looms.

Christmas is the most important holiday in my country. It is by far our most-celebrated holiday as it speaks of unity and reunion. It is the day where most faces gleam and hearts sing happiness and peace.

For the Filipino millennials, Christmas starts as early as September 1, but the formal celebration begins on the 16th of December when people flock to Catholic churches to complete the nine-day series of masses. For them, failure to complete the novena would rob them of a one-time chance for their wish to be granted—which is, of course, untrue and baseless.

What a happy month for most, but I could not help but ache for the people living on the streets, for those who have no one, and for our farmers whose this year is not for them.

What happened exactly?

In September 2018, the Philippines saw its inflation figure shot up to a nine-year high of 6.7 percent, with the figure blamed on increased prices in food and non-alcoholic beverages; housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels; as well as transport.

As for the food sector, the shortage of rice staple—a primary food in the Philippines—was a loud alarm to the nation, leading to rice prices soaring. Add to this that the Philippine peso was weaker as against the greenback, global crude oil prices went volatile, and that consumer demand further grew.

Thanks to the government’s efforts, inflation figure was tamed to 6 percent in November 2019, and cooled further in the proceeding months. As of October 2019, inflation figure settled at 0.8 percent.

What were the government’s efforts?

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas performed several rounds of interest rate hikes to tame inflation, but rice staple remained low at that time. This prompted for calls to repeal the two-decade-old Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996, and replaced the quantitative restrictions on rice imports with tariffs. The measure was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in February 2019.

The long-regime QR would have protected rice farmers but the newly-amended law liberalized the entry of imported rice from neighboring countries such as Thailand and Vietnam. This was the start of our farmers’ crying for help amid the continued decline in local rice prices to as much as P7 per kilogram, whereas rice production costs around P12 per kilogram.

As of October this year, the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law, resulted in as much as 2.5 million metric tons of rice imports, nearly double the country’s 1.3 million annual rice supply gap, and is nearing the 3 million metric tons as projected import by the United States Department of Agriculture.

The new law allowed for the disbursement of cash assistance to our ailing farmers, and the government has promised already P3 billion in cash assistance to the affected farmers by year-end. This is on top of the P10 billion as provided under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) of the law.

To date, there are 10 million Filipino rice farmers, and they constitute a huge portion of the 100 million Filipinos. Such help may do so little to satisfy the hungry stomachs and the needs to survive every day.

Our farmers needed more help than delayed or broken promises. They deserve to see more actions than words from our installed officials who have showered their vows during election campaigns.

Make good on a promise. Release and increase their cash assistance, and purchase the rice staple at a higher price so as to cripple the greedy traders who have been clouded by the power of money. It is high time we show our farmers the respect that they deserve.

It’s not just ‘us’ who deserve a Merry Christmas. They do, too.