THE government is setting aside P3 billion from rice import tariffs to fund a one-time cash assistance program for rice farmers affected by the plunging price of palay, or unmilled rice.

“Ang dinecide ng Cabinet ay magbigay ng cash assistance… (The Cabinet has decided to extend cash assistance) sa mga magsasaka na may one hectare,” Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar told reporters Friday, adding that the grant will be worth P5,000. “This will be taken from the tariff being collected out of the Rice Tariffication Law and I am hoping hoping that this can be given before Christmas.”

“We’re now drafting the guidelines…. so far almost P11 billion (has been generated from tariffs), so by the end of the year the excess will be used,” he said.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) announced on Oct. 11 that it terminated the process of imposing safeguard duties on imported rice.

He said that the Cabinet members decided to resort to cash assistance to prevent the safeguard duty’s possible impact on inflation.

The cash assistance targets 600,000 farmers, sugesting that rice tariffs need to exceed the P10 billion mark by P3 billion.

The Rice Tariffication Law requires that P10 billion a year be set aside for the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund,” which will support farm mechanization, expand credit, and help farmers use higher-yielding seed, among others.

The assistance will be extended to farmers listed in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA).

The P3 billion will supplement the P2.5-billion expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program, which involves a P15,000 loan at 0% interest, payable in eight years.

Mr. Dar said that the imposition of a safeguard duty is still an option, but it is currently not a priority.

“Nandyan palagi, fallbck yun (It is always available as a fallback). Now, wala pa (The time is not right for it yet),” he said.

The DA decided to look into imposing safeguard measures on imported rice after higher import volumes softened the price traders were willing to pay for palay, the form in which domestic farmers sell their crop.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that in the fourth week of September, the average farmgate price of palay dropped 0.9% to P15.82 per kilogram (kg) week-on-week. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang