THE Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) cast doubt on Tuesday on the capacity of small government agencies to effectively disburse the P10 billion-a-year Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), one of the features of the Rice Tariffication Law.
In a briefing in Quezon City, FFF National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said that the agencies overseeing the fund, like the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) may not have the reach or the manpower, while the Technical Education Skills Development Authority (TESDA) on the other hand is not an agriculture-focused training center.
Mr. Montemayor added that TESDA is in a partnership with the law’s principal author Senator Cynthia A. Villar’s farm school Villar Sipag, which means that a part of the budget will benefit Ms. Villar’s foundation.
Under the law, the rice tariffication will provide P10 billion in funding each year fro six years to assist rice farmers, with 50% for farm mechanization; 30% for development, propagation and promotion of inbred seed; 10% for low-cost farm credit facilitated by the Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP); and 10% for extension services to upgrade farmers’ skills in crop production, seed production, modern rice farming techniques, farm mechanization, and facilitate technology transfer through farm schools.
“The fund seems to have an intended beneficiary, which is the foundation” Mr. Montemayor said.
“Agriculture training is not TESDA’s expertise,” Mr. Montemayor added.
Mr. Montemayor said that the government is in a hurry to implement the law without adequate study. He noted that while rice tariffication is part of the country’s commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) which should have been implemented more than two decades ago, the removal of the licensing authority of the National Food Authority (NFA) is not part of the agreement.
“I can’t understand why they removed that, not just among importers but all the way down to the retailers. How can you track the movement of the rice [and] the inventory of rice?” Mr. Montemayor said.
According to Mr. Montemayor, by removing NFA’s power to regulate the industry, the market is now more vulnerable to smuggling.
Among the requirements to import rice under the new law is to have access to a warehouse. The NFA will no longer license any importer, but importers have to go to the Bureau of Plant (BPI) industry to secure sanitary permits.
The FFF and other groups of rice farmers declared their opposition to the law, which took effect yesterday. The other groups include Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan, Centro Saka, Rights Watch, Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan, Save Agrarian Reform Alliance, Integrated Rural Development Foundation, Pambansang Kilusan ng Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, the National Movement for Food Sovereignty, Kilusan para sa Repormang Agraryo at Kataturungan Panlipunan, and Rice Watch Action Network. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio