AGHAM – Advocates of Science and Technology for the People is deeply concerned over the recent rice weevil infestation of about 330,000 bags of imported rice loaded at the Subic Bay and the Tabaco City, Albay Freeports. We urge the Duterte administration to immediately strengthen control and monitoring mechanisms on rice imports, especially if the quantitative restriction on importation is lifted should the Rice Tariffication Act be passed and implemented.
House Bill 5023 (An Act to Place Safety Nets for Filipino Rice Producers by Imposing Tariffs in Lieu of Quantitative Restrictions on Rice Imports, Directing Tariff Collection from Rice Imports and Projects and Programs that Enhance Rice Productivity and Increase Farmers Incomes, and Other Purposes), also known as the Rice Tariffication Act, will abolish the National Food Authority, the government agency tasked to ensure the nation’s food security, thus also removing the Minimum Access Volume that it has set for rice imports. Through this proposed bill government renounces its role in ensuring the food security of the country, including its duty to ensure that the quality of imported rice is safe for consumers. If passed, it will pave the way for a more liberalized environment for rice importation by allowing greater control by the private sector. This potentially increases the risk of importing infested rice as government will be with little power to police and monitor rice imports.
The mandate of the NFA of buffer stocking to supply the market with cheap safe-for-consumption rice requires the agency to employ post-harvest technology for grain storage, eliminating the risks of grain losses from storage pests. Fumigation is a common practice in grain storage technology to destroy stored product pests in all its stages from egg, to larvae, and to adult. If the NFA will be abolished, imported rice stocks will be at greater risk from weevil infestations.
Inefficient application of fumigants to rid rice stocks of pests is the most likely cause of this infestation found on rice imports currently stored at the Bicol and Subic freeports. And the fumigation of these imports should have been done at the country of origin. The critical role of the Philippines as the importing country is to ensure that the exporting country follows the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures for food safety and plant and animal health regulations set by the World Trade Organization, of which both are members. Hence, a strong Quality Control Standards and Procedures program must be set to protect consumers’ welfare. This would require strengthening the capacity of the country to control grain storage quality through better equipped and increased numbers of competent quality assurance officers, and sufficient postharvest laboratories and equipment, especially at the stage when the country is still relying on rice imports to feed Filipinos.
Food security and self-sufficiency is the mandate of the state which has a social accountability and responsibility to ensure that the people have access to safe and affordable food to all Filipinos. This crucial mandate should not be handed to the private sector, knowing its tendency to favor maximization of profit over better quality product and service delivery. It is necessary for government to intensify its intervention in control and monitoring of rice imports to resolve the problems of infestation.
AGHAM in the long-term is committed to continuing to strongly urge the government to develop long-term sustainable programs to end our dependence on rice imports, and to build our agricultural base through the development of our local agricultural and environmental resource sciences and industries. We call on all Filipino agricultural and environmental scientists and engineers to take part in this long-term national agriculture development program.
As we all work to develop our national agricultural sector, we move to limit the storage of big volumes of rice for longer periods of time as the country’s steady rice supply will now come from its own vibrant and dynamic local agricultural sector.#