Budget dep’t asked to allocate funds to farmers before rice tariffs set in

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rice grains
FARMERS dry unmilled rice grains along the road in Pulilan, Bulacan. — PHILSTAR/KRIZ JOHN ROSALES

SENATOR Cynthia A. Villar, who chairs the chamber’s Committee on Agriculture and Food, has requested that the Department of Budget and Management allocate additional funds for rice farmers until the rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF) takes effect.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Ms. Villar said that she asked Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno to set aside P10 billion annually for rice farmers until the tariff collected from imported rice is put to use to boost the productivity of domestic rice farmers.

“I’m telling the DBM secretary he has to provide that for this budget for next year. He should anticipate it […] because even with the tariff, it will not be enough [to support the farmers],” she added.

“The RCEF should come from the tariff but the tariff is still up in the air so they should just give P10 billion while the tariff isn’t there. But once it’s here, the tariff will be used.”

The RCEF is a proposal under the House Bill 7735, or the Revised Agricultural Tariffication Act, which will remove the quantitative restriction on rice imports in exchange for higher tariffs.

The bill also seeks to restore the minimum access volume of 350,000 metric tons, which was last imposed in 2012, at a 40% tariff rate. Any volume above this will be levied a 180% rate.

The fund will be used to further improve the capacity of rice farmers through mechanization, scholarships, and extension services.

Ms. Villar said that the bill, which passed on second reading in the House of Representatives last week, is set to be passed as soon as possible “because we’ll be penalised by November if we didn’t liberalize.”

The Senate version, on the other hand, has not yet cleared the committee.

“It’s so hard to pass a bill that… won’t help the farmers. So we have to be very careful in what we provide in the bill to make sure that the farmers will become competitive and profitable,” Ms. Villar said.

“Or else they’ll be on the losing end again,” she added. — Anna Gabriela A. Mogato