MANILA – Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has called on the Senate to fast-track the release by December of an initial P3 billion for the direct cash compensation to rice farmers whose livelihood has been adversely affected by the Rice Tariffication Law.
“Our farmers have already lost billions of pesos. This [cash compensation for the impacted rice farmers] will ease their burden,” he said.
Pangilinan made the call during the plenary hearing of the Department of Finance’s 2020 budget Wednesday afternoon and reiterated the same during the budget deliberations of the Department of Agriculture later in the day.
During the hearing, Pangilinan reiterated Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez’s support for Joint Resolution No. 2, which sought to amend the Rice Tariffication Law and allow the distribution of P15 billion immediate cash assistance directly to rice farmers.
The P15 billion will be sourced from the fund balance of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under the unprogrammed appropriations of the 2019 national budget and the collected tariffs from rice importation.
However, legal questions prevent government agencies from releasing the fund due to lack of appropriations cover as it was not included in the unprogrammed fund.
Pangilinan said the finance department is willing to release P3 billion in December and P3 billion in January 2020, but they need the appropriations cover.
Because of this, Pangilinan suggested the passage of the 2020 budget by last week of November to give the finance department the proper appropriations cover to release P3 billion in December and another P3 billion in January 2020.
Pangilinan also raised the possibility of passing a supplemental budget by December to fund the P3 billion initial direct cash assistance to the rice farmers.
“Perhaps, the way forward is to pass a supplemental budget in the first two weeks of December,” suggested Pangilinan, who filed Senate Joint Resolution 2 on September 5 this year.
“If it is supported by Malacañang, perhaps it can be certified as urgent, then we can pass it by last week of November,” he added.
Finance Committee Chairman Sonny Angara supported Pangilinan’s suggestion, calling it a good idea.
The country’s over 2 million rice farmers have been reeling from the flood of cheap imported rice as an effect of the Rice Tariffication Law. In the current harvest season, this rice glut has depressed the prices of their palay produce.