MANILA – Senator Francis Pangilinan on Wednesday urged the Departments of Finance and Agriculture to release the P6-billion cash compensation for rice farmers this December.
At the bicameral conference committee meeting, the former food security secretary said: “Pamaskuhan naman natin ang ating mga magpapalay na nasalanta ng pagbaha ng murang imported rice. Kailangan na nila ng bayad-pinsala ngayon (Let this be our Christmas gift to our rice farmers devastated by the flood of imported rice. They need this reparation now).”
Pangilinan started to sound the alarm on the plight of Filipino rice farmers August this year during a privilege speech, where he proposed several measures to ensure that they will survive the devastating effects of the flood of imported rice.
Last month, Pangilinan filed a bill seeking to augment the 2019 budget with P6 billion to immediately provide unconditional cash transfer to rice farmers from unprogrammed funds in the 2019 national budget.
Senate Bill 1191 proposes a P6-billion supplemental budget from unprogrammed 2019 budget for direct cash transfers to vulnerable rice farmers who are planting one hectare or less, “as compensation for the reduction or loss of farm income arising from the influx of imported rice.”
Of the country’s 2.11 million rice farmers, 1.14 million plant in at most one hectare of land. However, according to DOF, only 416,972 are in provinces that experienced an income loss of at least 2 pesos per kilo. DOF will decide on actual number of farmers who will be compensated.
The cash transfer will give them a lifeline to continue farming while we try our best to fix the law, Pangilinan added, referring to Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act which imposes a minimum 35-percent tariff on rice imports in lieu of quantitative restrictions (QRs).
The liberalization of rice imports, while intended to give the country a steady supply, has led to declining palay farmgate prices in many rice-producing areas.
Eight months since the passage of the law, farmgate prices of palay have plunged to as low as P7 to P10 per kilo in some provinces, while the price of rice dropped by 2.9 percent, and the price of palay by 17.48 percent.
The drop in farmgate price of palay has resulted in huge income losses for rice farmers and the industry, now estimated around P60 billion, and projected to double by yearend.
Pangilinan said releases from the proposed supplemental fund will be made by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) directly to the Department of Agriculture (DA), which shall make available the fund to the farmers.
The fund will be effective until December 31, 2020.
Earlier, both the Senate and the House approved on third and final reading their respective bills extending the validity of the 2019 budget until December 31, 2020.
This would allow agencies to spend funds for capital outlays and maintenance and other operating expenses in the 2019 budget until next year.
According to Pangilinan’s bill, the DBM will submit to Congress and the Commission on Audit quarterly report on the utilization of funds.
At the House of Representatives in November, Liberal party secretary general Quezon City Rep. Christopher ‘Kit” Belmonte, also filed House Bill 5629 as a counterpart measure, saying that the cash compensation will encourage rice farmers to continue farming.
Pangilinan is Liberal Party president.
“Hindi kasalanan ng ating mga magpapalay ang nangyayaring pagguho ng kanilang kabuhayan. Kailangan isalba natin ang pagpapalay dito sa atin, dahil kung hindi, tayo ring lahat na kumakain ng bigas ang sa huli ay magdudusa at kakapusin sa bigas (The damage to their livelihood is not our farmers’ fault. We need to save our rice farmers because if not, all of us who consume rice will in the end suffer and face rice shortage),” Pangilinan said.