A Senate committee approved a resolution Friday that calls for excess tariffs collected for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to be directed towards cash assistance to farmers suffering during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food approved Joint Resolution No. 12 that will allocate tariff collections in excess of the P10 billion RCEF is entitled to directly to farmers who till one hectare or less.

According to preliminary data, the Bureau of Customs has collected P13.681 billion between January and September, Senator Cynthia A. Villar said.

“Whatever money we can raise in excess of rice tariffication, we just give as financial assistance to the rice farmers kasi ang daming complaints na bumaba ang price ng rice (there are many complaints about the low price of rice),” Ms. Villar said at a hearing Friday.

The Rice Tariffication Law, or Republic Act No. 11203, provided for a P10 billion annual allocation to the RCEF, to fund mechanization, credit, seed and training programs.

She also recommended that on top of the P3.6 billion in excess tariffs, that P1 billion worth of funding from the 2021 budget of the Department of Agriculture be used as additional cash assistance.

“I saw in the budget of agriculture, they are putting another amount of P1 billion for crop diversification, which I think we should put (into) financial assistance to rice farmers, together with the tentative P3.6 billion,” she said.

Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said freshly harvested palay currently fetches an average of P13.20 and dry palay P16.64.

Mr. Dar said the department “strongly supports” the intent of the resolution. He also recommended that the committee move to institutionalize the crop diversification program.

“We are strongly supporting the joint resolution pero ‘wag kaligtaan kung pwedeng ma-institutionalize ‘yung crop diversification program at dagdag dun sa crop insurance (let us not forget the possibility of institutionalizing the crop diversification program and the provision of crop insurance),” he said. — Charmaine A. Tadalan