Rice and Philippine Politics

Ponciano S. Intal Jr.
Marissa C. Garcia
JEL codes: 
Rice has been a pivotal political commodity since the Commonwealth because of its importance as a staple food and calorie source for majority of the population, especially in the low-income groups, as well as a source of employment and income to a wide range of people that comprise the demand and supply chain. As a result, food security and price stability continue as twin priority objectives of the government regimes in the Philippines. Using a political economy perspective, this paper establishes the strong relationship between rice and politics and explains recent developments in the Philippine rice landscape. Results of the analysis show that the price of rice has been a significant determinant in election results since the 1950s, with the exception of 1998, where despite stable prices, the candidate from the incumbent administration failed to win the presidential elections. In addition, reliance by the Philippine government primarily on price instruments to achieve its rice objectives and to protect farmer and consumer interests has not resulted in any substantial improvements in rice production. In fact, the shift to rice protection since the 1980s has failed to stabilize domestic rice prices and has effectively penalized the poorer households. This has been traced largely to the failure of the National Food Authority to provide timely, accurate, and appropriate intervention in the countrys rice market. If the Philippines is to achieve sustained, stable rice supply at low prices and at the same time promote rice consumer and producer welfare, the adoption of a privatefocused, market-based regulatory regime without a rice trading parastatal (but with rice emergency reserves, not for price stabilization) remains as a long-term objective. In the meantime, a two-pronged transitional approach is suggested: 1) Setting up a Tax Expenditure Fund ceiling for all subsidies to government-controlled and -owned corporations (GOCCs); and 2) More aggressive support of productivity enhancing investments in the rice sector, e.g., irrigation and better varieties and improved farming practices through agricultural research, development, and extension (RD&E).