By Genalyn Kabiling
The country will continue to import rice to help prevent the people from going hungry, President Duterte admitted Friday.
The President acknowledged that the “stomach comes first” as he pressed the need to keep sufficient government stockpiles to ensure that affordable rice remain available to families.
“The policy of the government is to keep the people, not from – keep them away from hunger so we have to import whether we like it or not and we have to plan,”Duterte pointed out during a press conference in Davao City airport Friday morning upon his arrival from Indonesia.
As he tackled rice importation, Duterte reiterated that the country was unlikely to become self-sufficient in rice production amid the shrinking farmlands.
He said agricultural lands have been used to plant cash crops instead of food crops.
“Frankly, I do not think that we will be rice sufficient. I don’t know if – in the years to come,” he said.
In the previous administration, then Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala had declared that the Philippines will become 98 percent rice self-sufficient by the end of 2014. But this was never even after previous administration ended in 2016.
Duterte said he expects Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol to craft a formula to balance the issues and concerns on rice importation and the welfare of local rice farmers.
He noted that rice importation must be scheduled during the lean months.
“Maybe, during harvest time or a later period after that. There must be space for the local products to be consumed – bought and consumed. Then after comes the lean months which we have also to consider,” he said.
Duterte said when the country was confronted with rice supply problems, he immediately ordered the importation of rice despite differing views from some Cabinet members.
He said he wanted government warehouses to be filled to the ceiling with rice.
“As I have said in the Cabinet meeting, I thought that problem would never confront me. So that early on I appointed people, precisely to meet the challenges of rice shortage.
But would you believe it or not, it really happened and – I was the first one who ordered the importation. Merong gusto, meronghindi,” he said.
Tough times ahead
As this developed, President Duterte warned of tough times ahead as the sharp surge in oil costs continue to affect local consumer prices.
The President asked the public to brace for economic hardship during his term, saying the country was not a rich oil-producing nation and continues to rely on imported fuel.
“Sabihin nila, ‘Ano ‘to siDuterte?Bakit ‘yung pandesal niya kasinglaki na lang ng monggo?’ Ano bang magawa ko? Walangatayong oil,. eh [They say, ‘What’s with Duterte? Why is the bread as small as a bean? What can I do? We have no oil],”Duterte said during a press conference in Davao City.
“This is not the end of the story, guys. Sabihinninyopanahonkotalagangmaghirap [You say we will suffer during my time]. If things will move forward in accordance with the present calculations now, talagang sa panahon ko maghirap tayo. Kung mag-wala kayo, ‘di lahat na tayo. Mag-wala na tayong lahat kasi ako apektador in. Iyan ang problema ngayon [we will really suffer under my term. If you lose it, we’ll all lose it because I am also affected. That’s the problem today],” he said.
The President lamented that the Philippines was not one of the fortunate nations given with oil resources. He noted that the country largely depends on imported oil, whose rising prices have driven the soaring inflation.
“The problem now is… Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei… maybe good fortunes have oil, but we have none,” he said.
“Maramisilang oil.Hindi sila dependent.Tayo, sabi ng Pilipino, inflation. Correct. There is inflation,” he said.
Duterte admitted that there would be inflation spike if oil prices will continue to escalate.
“I must give you the warning now. ‘Pagmagtaas ‘yang oil, you can be sure next week mag-announce na naman ng price increases. Because oil is everything. The world cannot move. There’s not enough solar power to run this country,” he said.
The President had earlier raised the possibility of the government suspending the fuel excise taxes to tame the country’s rising inflation. “Maybe,”Duterte said during press conference in Malacañang last Tuesday, when asked if the government would suspend the excise taxes on petroleum products.
He noted that Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III would look into the possible P2 reduction of the fuel excise taxes.
Under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law, the government could suspend the next increase in fuel excise taxes if Dubai crude hits $80 per barrel for a period of three months.