THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said it hopes to fully release in 2019 a P10-billion rice industry support fund financed by import tariffs which will underwrite efforts to improve the industry’s competitiveness.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said that the department has factored in how to disburse the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is part of its 2019 budget, though the exact items remain unprogrammed.

The 2019 budget continues to be delayed with signing possibly taking place after Easter.

“Of course, we will insist that we should be getting the whole 10 billion because that is the law… Hindi pwedeng sabihin nila na walang pondo [We can’t say that there are no funds] because that is part of the law,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

“There is simply no way that the government will not fulfill its commitment because that is what the law says,” he said.

Other government agencies have warned that the tariffs collected from rice imports may be subject to delay pending the implementation of the Rice Tariffication law and the arrival of rice shipments on which duties can be collected.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Regional Development Office Assistant Secretary Mercedita A. Sombilla has said that farmers could end up waiting until the third quarter for fund disbursements, which are meant to improve planting methods, mechanization, farm credit and seed material.

Farmers’ groups have also expressed fears that the releases from the fund could be captured by corrupt officials. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang