By Macon Araneta

Sen. Imee Marcos assured rice farmers that by December, they will receive the PHP6.9 billion additional help from the government, in the form of palaypurchases or cash.

As this developed, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Agriculture and Food Committee, admitted  that the  problems hounding the local farmers, particularly the drop in the prices of palay with the implementation of the Rice Tariffication law is part of the “birth pains” of a new law. 

Villar also emphasized the Philippines had no choice  but to pass the law since “we have a commitment that we should liberalize (rice importation) after 22 years.”

In fact,  she said that this was even extended to two years by the World Trade Organization (WTO).

“We were given 24 years by WTO to be competitive but  we failed to do it, so now we are having this problem,” said Villar as she expressed hope that the PHP10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) would be successful. 

RCEF will be a re-tool to make farming  in the country  more productive.  This will teach farmers how to produce rice with competitive pricing.  This can be done through mechanization and better seed so their yield will increase by 50 percent. 

To help farmers, Marcos said the  government will use undisbursed funds from the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

Villar renewed her call to government  agencies to buy their rice needs from local farmers.

“Like for example, the governors, they can get from local farmers the rice they need for their hospitals, prisons and in programs such as giving rice to their employees, for calamity assistance and in feeding programs.”

She said the new law on rice will be beneficial to local farmers. 

“They will be assured of PHP10 billion a year. if there will be more from the tariff, these will be given to them. The 947 rice-producing towns  will be given PHP5 million worth of equipment every year.  And Philrice will give them 20 kilos of seed per hectare and a bag of fertilizer per hectare. They can get loans from Landbank  and Development Bank of the Philippines, “ said Villar. 

Meanwhile, Marcos allayed concerns that a memorandum of agreement among the DSWD, Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority to purchase palayfrom local farmers “was held in abeyance” following a Supreme Court decision in October preventing budget allocations for items not specified in the national budget through a mere resolution in Congress.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives earlier approved joint resolutions to convert cash aid from the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) into rice, to be bought from local farmers unable to compete with cheap rice imports.

However, the high court ruling in the case of Ang Nars party list vs. the Executive Secretary et al. would require that the law enacting this year’s national budget, the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA), be amended before the relief measure could be implemented.

“The Senate hopes to amend the 4Ps allocations in the GAA by December before the rice harvest season ends and the unspent budget can revert to the general fund,” Marcos said.

“As we speak, both Houses are rushing a bill, in  compliance with the new Supreme Court ruling to amend GAA 2019, I am confident it will pass in time,” Marcos added.

The PHP6.9 billion aid from the DSWD budget answers President Duterte’s call on lawmakers to help local rice farmers adjust to the rice tariffication law during the harvest season and will augment the PHP5,000 cash assistance promised by the Department of Agriculture before Christmas, Marcos added. 

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the  dip in rice prices does not match the drop in palayprices as he asked the Philippine Competition Commission to investigate and correct this anomaly.

He said this means that the Rice Tariffication Law does not fulfill its promise to lower rice prices for consumers and the law only causes rice farmers hardships because of low palay prices.

Pangilinan cited the November 8 update on rice and corn prices from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Reference No. 2019-322, which showed farmgate price of palayfurther dropped to PHP15.43 per kilo from PHP15.49, average wholesale price of well-milled rice also dipped to PHP37.60 per kilo from PHP37.76 per kilo, average retail price of well milled rice fell to PHP41.75 from PHP41.87.

Earlier, he said the National Economic Development Authority claimed that Rice Tariffication Law is for the greater good.