Farmers should get at least P700M cash from rice tariff collection: Senate

MANILA — Rice farmers should get at least P700 million in cash aid from the rice tariff collection in excess of the P10 billion collected this year, the Senate said Wednesday.

During the interpellation on Senate Joint Resolution 8, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan insisted that the country’s rice farmers need cash assistance in the transition to a liberalized regime in the rice industry. He said funds may be taken from the excess of the P10 billion of the rice tariff collection.

“In fact, ma’am, I am willing to terminate my interpellation this evening if we can get a commitment from the Chairperson because the DOF [Department of Finance] has manifested during the budget hearings that they have already collected P10.7 billion as of September 20 this year. In other words, mayroon na pong P700 million na pupwede na pong i-allocate as cash assistance without need to amend the law” he said.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture that conducted a hearing on Joint Resolution 8 Tuesday (October 1), agreed to Pangilinan’s proposal.

In his interpellation, Pangilinan cited the Briones and Tolin study of the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) which recommended an annual P15,000 cash assistance to rice farmers during the transition period.

Immediate cash assistance is the gist of Pangilinan’s Senate Joint Resolution 2, which sought to amend the Rice Tariffication Law and allow a P13-billion immediate cash assistance directly to rice farmers.

In various hearings, farmers said they have been forced to sell their palay (unhusked rice) produce at a loss (or as low as P7 per kilo when their production cost is P12 per kilo) due to an oversupply of imported rice in the local market.

Pangilinan, former food security secretary, has repeatedly called attention to the plight of rice farmers suffering the effects of the drop in the farm-gate prices of palay. In August 13 this year, he delivered a privilege speech, and less than a month later on September 5, he filed the Senate Joint Resolution 2.

Joint Resolution 8, which was discussed in a hearing the previous day (October 1) and on the Senate floor, similarly wants to ease the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law and the subsequent influx of imported rice on local rice farmers. It instructs the Department of Social Welfare and Development and the National Food Authority in specified 11 provinces to buy directly from rice farmers for the October to December rice subsidy component of the Conditional Cash Transfer program. It also encourages LGUs to do the same for its various programs needing rice.

Villar pointed out that the recently passed Sagip Saka Law, authored by Pangilinan, has a key provision that allows national and local government agencies to directly buy produce from farmers and fisher folk and be exempted from the public bidding required under the Procurement Law.

“We believe that we need to support our farmers by way of buying from them directly. This is how we will move forward in effectively addressing poverty in the country,” Pangilinan said.