A rice policy without real benefits: Inquirer.net examines Marcos Jr.’s campaign promise

CHEERS TO Inquirer.net for its review of one of the campaign promises of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., now presumptive president to reduce the price of rice to PHP20 per kilo. The promise is something that should be welcomed given the current rate of inflation, but should be looked into if it can or will materialize. 

While other news accounts did interview some experts on the issue, this online report published on May 13 captured the complexity of the price of rice. The promise provoked reactions from peasant groups who said this would cause more loss of income for farmers. The sector also warned against the possible remake of the much lamented Kadiwa stores, a program under Marcos Sr.’s administration that “miserably failed.”

With Marcos Jr.s’ electoral win, Cristina Eloisa Baclig, who wrote the report, singled out this issue for scrutiny. She noted that during his campaign sorties, Marcos Jr. said often enough that he would pursue “unity,” but did announce one concrete policy which was to bring down rice prices and put a price cap on the staple.

The report featured Danilo Ramos, National chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), who expressed disbelief about the plan and recalled the Kadiwa store system during the late dictator’s regime. 

Ramos said that the Kadiwa stores started in 1980 and was a government program supposedly to help bring down the prices of agricultural commodities, including rice. It was backed by four government agencies  headed by Imelda Marcos. 

“Costing the government P18 million within two years, Kadiwa was characterized by hoarding, raids, and by 1983, empty rice shelves. By May to November 1984, rice prices even surged by 25.9% to P5.35/kilo, eating up a third of the then P16 daily minimum wage,” he added. The program was shut down in 1985.

Ramos also said that the sustainable way to make rice affordable is to increase local production. But he pointed out that Marcos Jr. had ignored pro-farmer bills despite his 30 years in public service. 

The report also cited economist Joey Salceda, who stated that the promise will only “kill 3.4 million rice farmers,” as well as current Agriculture Secretary William Dar who surmised that Marcos may have meant lowering the farmgate prices of palay, not rice. 

If that were the case, members of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (Pakisama) argued that “if they implement that PHP20, the farmgate prices might plunge to PHP6—which makes a stick of cigarette more expensive than a kilo of palay.”

Cielito Habito, former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general, explained that “the farmgate price of unmilled palay is about half the retail price of milled rice, given milling recovery efficiency, and costs of milling, transport, and logistics through the supply chain.” The promise thus implies a farmgate palay price of about P10 per kilo, well below farmers’ production costs.

Habito in a separate Inquirer column described Marcos Jr.’s mind as “confused and out of touch.” In an attempt to sweet-talk producers and consumers, Habito said Marcos Jr. fails to help either, making him a “dangerous leader.”

The media need to sustain this kind of scrutiny of the Marcos presidency, checking out the feasibility of the plans a new administration may be considering either as a campaign promise or as a policy initiative when the candidates come to power. 

To do this well, journalists need to understand the context of the policy and evaluate its worthiness. If an aspiring leader attempts to talk about

palay and rice, they should know what they are talking about. The public deserves to know when a leader has not done his homework. Exposing such a failure is part of the media’s work.