By Macon Araneta

To help them cope up with the liberalization of rice importation, about  600,000 farmers all over the country will receive this month the PHP5,000 cash assistance from the PHP3-billion budget allocation of the Department of Finance (DoF), said Sen. Cynthia Villar.

In an interview over radio DZMM, Villar, chair of the Senate Agriculture and Food committee, debunked reports that the Senate caused the removal of the PHP3-billion supposed to be given to the intended farmers-beneficiaries.

Villar lamented this report as “fake news” being peddled by those opposing the liberalization of importing rice under the Rice Tariffication Law recently  signed by President Rodrigo Duterte into law.

Instead, she noted that the PHP3-billion was transferred to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP). It will then be distributed to the farmers-beneficiaries  by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

She said the DA has a list of the 600,000 farmers who has less than one hectare of rice field in order to qualify for the help.

Next year, she said the DA will again give PHP5,000 cash to the beneficiaries. She said financial assistance will be given directly to the farmers and will no longer go through  local government units.

“Perhaps, similar to our CCT (Cash Conditional Transfer),” said Villar, referring to the transfer of funds to poor Filipinos  who meet the criteria of the program that aims to help minimize property.

Villar also clarified that instead of the plan to give rice to the intended beneficiaries, the agriculture department opted to give cash assistance.

“Kasi bakit pa ipambibili, ibigay ng derecho. Baka hindi  pa bumili, sayang, di ba?”she said.

Villar expressed hope the farmers can adjust with the rice importation liberalization because of the huge funding coming their way through the PHP10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

For the next six years, she said the farmers are guaranteed PHP10-billion in annual funds from RCEF.  She said RCEF will address the perennial woes in the agriculture sector and will help farmers and fisherfolks reduce their production cost and increase their productivity and income.

Under Republic Act 11203 or the rice tariffication law, Villar said the PHP10-billion RCEF will have a PHP1 billion allocation for skills training of farmers and knowledge and technology transfer through farm schools nationwide.

RCEF allocates PHP5 billion for the procurement of farm equipment by the Philippine Center for Post-harvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech); PHP3 billion to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for the inbred seeds program; PHP1 billion for cheap credit facility and PHP1 billion for skills development.

For clarity of functions and extension modality, PhilMech and PhilRice will provide ATI and TESDA with a training module and will conduct training of trainor classes. ATI and TESDA will promote the same training modules among farmers, via Farmers Field Schools and TESDA Accredited Farm Schools in identified rice-producing municipalities.

The skills training program will include courses that will enable farmers to operate and maintain farm equipment such as tillers, tractors, seeders, threshers, rice planters, harvesters and irrigation pumps.

The machinery will be used for land preparation, crop establishment, harvesting and threshing, drying and milling.

She said the biggest number of farmer-beneficiaries would come from the provinces of Nueva Ecija and Isabela. The others are from Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Tarlac, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Iloilo, North Cotabato, Zamboanga del Sur and Bukidnon.

Once the national budget for 2020 is approved, she said the PHP10-billion funds for RCEF will be released.

But for this month,   each of the 600,000 qualified beneficiaries will get the PHP5,000 cash assistance.  She said the allocation would come from the Department of Finance.

She said farm machineries and equipment will also be released soon. Right now, the seeds to be distributed to the farmers are undergoing the bidding process.

“We will not stop in helping them. We are one in this goal,” stressed Villar..

“(The PHP3-billion) was not scrapped from the budget. Gusto nga namin huwag na ipabili, derecho na ibigay na para wala ng problema, talagang mapunta safarmers para sigurado,”she said.