THE Department of Agriculture (DA) has signaled that it will claim the full amount of P10 billion once tariffs start generating funding for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), arguing that a P5 billion advance provided in 2018 was meant for other rice projects.

“There was confusion on the initial P5 billion that was released to the DA on Dec. 28… it’s meant to support the rice program of the DA,” Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol said in a briefing Thursday.

“Definitely, the P5 billion is not part of RCEF,” he said, with the liberalization of rice imports only implemented this year, while the initial P5 billion was given last year.

The RCEF is meant to be funded by tariffs generated by rice imports, raising P10 billion each year to improve farmers’ access to financing, rice seed, machinery and know-how, among others.

He said that the DA has fully allocated the P5 billion released in December, with P4 billion going to the regions before the end of 2018, and P1 billion set aside for lending programs.

The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) has requested for the latter to be returned to help finance the acquisition of rice drying facilities and other equipment.

The financing will be provided by LANDBANK and the Development Bank of the Philippines, which will charge 2%.

National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Assistant Secretary Mercedita A. Sombilla has said that the P5 billion was meant to be used for projects that meet the RCEF mandate while the Rice Tariffication Law, which authorizes the RCEF, was still being implemented.

The Rice Tariffication Law aims to bring down the price of rice by liberalizing the imports of cheap foreign grain.

The need to support farmers while imports increase their footprint in the market is intended to help make them more competitive. The threat of more imports has already exerted pressure on domestic prices of palay, or unmilled rice, reducing farmer incomes and highlighting the need for them to be more cost-efficient.

“I talked to Secretary Mon (Ramon M.) Lopez and he agrees that that amount should not be part of the RCEF. Binalik lang naming ’yung P1 billion para lang makatulong na hindi na masyadong maghanap ng pera ang gobyerno [We returned the P1 billion to help ensure the government is not pressed for funding],” Mr. Piñol said.

He said the DA will initiate a dialogue on the matter.

For the deployment of the actual RCEF funds, he said, “We are still in the process of organizing the project steering committee… when organized, I will ask all the agencies involved in the RCEF to make a presentation of their programs. As the only accountable officer for the P10 billion, I will have to ask them to present their project proposals and I will have to make sure that money really goes to the rice farmers.” — Vincent Mariel P. Galang