Senator Christopher “Bong” Go today emphasized the importance of the agricultural sector and its contributions towards economic recovery amid the adverse effects of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Go, chairman of the Senate health and demography committee, also called on concerned agencies to protect the welfare of small farmers and go after abusive traders.
During his manifestation in a public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Go threw his support for the improvements in the agricultural sector through overhauling the country’s rice importation system.
“Sa panahon ng krisis at pandemya, ang ating mga masisipag na magsasaka ang nagsisilbing kasangga ng bawat pamilyang Pilipino,’’ he said. (At this time of the crisis and pandemic, our energetic farmers serve as partners of every Filipino family.
“Bilang mga nagsisilbing food providers ng ating bayan, nararapat lamang po na maglaan tayo ng epektibong mekanismo na mangangalaga sa kapakanan ng ating mga magsasaka,’’ he added. (As food providers of our nation, we should also provide our farmers with effective mechanism that will protect their interest.)
Go, likewise, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic, and erring rice traders and importers who take advantage of the crisis continue to burden Filipino farmers throughout the country.
“Marami po sa ating mga magsasaka ang naapektuhan at tuluyang nawalan ng trabaho at kabuhayan dahil sa pandemya. Patong-patong na problema at balakid po ang dinaranas ng ating mga magsasaka, hindi ko po matatanggap na sa kabila ng hirap na dinaranas ng ating mga magsasaka ay talamak pa rin ang issue ng rice smuggling sa ating bansa,’’ he pointed out. (Many of our farmers were affected and they lost their jobs and livelihood due to the pandemic. Our farmers are suffering and it is not acceptable that despite of this situation, the issue of rice smuggling persists in the country.)
“Dagdag pa rito ang pananamantala at panloloko ng ilang malalaking rice traders at rice importers. Hindi po natin papalagpasin ang mga ganitong klase ng katiwalian,’’ he said. (Added to this, some big rice traders and rice importers are abusing them. We will not tolerate this.)
Go noted that despite the passage of the Republic Act (RA) 11203, or “An Act Liberalizing the Importation, Exportation and Trading of Rice” or the Rice Tariffication Law, which removed the quantitative restrictions on rice importation, there is still a need for government to be more proactive in protecting the welfare of small farmers.
“Huwag po nating hayaang tuluyang maghirap ang ating mga magsasaka. Kamakailan lamang po, nagkaroon ng imbestigasyon ang NBI ng mga unscrupulous rice traders sa Tarlac, tuloy-tuloy lang po ang kampanya natin laban sa korapsyon at smuggling,’’ he added. (We will not allow our farmers to suffer. The NBI has recently investigated unscrupulous rice traders in Tarlac. Our campaign against corruption and smuggling will continue.)
During a committee hearing on the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Go promised to help look into alleged rice smuggling by a cooperative in Tarlac.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) assured to hold responsible the rice smugglers.
During a recent committee hearing, Go raised the issue again of a certain cooperative from Tarlac which was able to release rice imports despite the suspension of their sanitary import clearance based on a report from the NBI.
“Bakit po nakakalusot ang ganitong pangyayari? Ano po ang gagawin ng Bureau of Customs (BOC)r and Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI) para hindi maulit ang paggamit sa cooperatives as passes?’’ he asked. (Why the incident of this kind continues to happen? What actions the BOC and the BPI should take in order to stop the use of cooperatives as passes?)
The BOC and BPI responded, saying that they would take action on the issue.
They also vowed to implement necessary guidelines to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.
In the hearing, it was agreed that the importation of rice would be prohibited during harvest season to protect the local rice industry and farmers.
During the harvest season, which lasts seven months, import permits will not be issued.
It was also emphasized during the hearing that cooperatives are prohibited by law from importing rice because only transport cooperatives are allowed to import items, products and raw materials for their production and operations.
Go then urged the DA and its attached agencies responsible for the welfare of our farmers to safeguard rice farming and continue to uplift the lives of Filipino farmers.
“Unahin po natin ang kapakanan ng ating mga magsasaka, partikular na po ang mga pinakamahihirap sa kanila. ‘Wag po nating silang hayaang magutom,’’ he said. (Let us prioritize the welfare of our farmers, particularly, the poorest among them. Let us not allow them to go hungry…. Let us provide them with mechanisms that will secure their welfare and benefits.)