October 19, 2019
THE government is targeting to provide P3 billion in cash assistance to rice farmers before the year ends, in a bid to aid them from the impact of the low prices of palay (unmilled rice) amid the influx of rice imports, a Cabinet official said on Friday.
At the sidelines of the Philippines-India Trade Consultations in Makati City, Agriculture Secretary William Dar told reporters that Cabinet members believe the imposition of safeguard duty on rice imports could have an “inflationary effect,” thus the need to look at other measures to relieve farmers from steep drop in palay prices.
The imposition of a safeguard duty on rice imports was one of the measures the government was banking on, as the main harvest season was forthcoming.
Dar earlier said the Department of Agriculture (DA) will consult the members of the economic team on October 24 to come up with a “final decision,” even if he said before the agency would place a general safeguard duty on imported rice by the end of September or early October.
The cash assistance, Dar explained, was targeted to be released to some 600,000 registered rice farmers, at P5,000 each farmer, before the year ends.
“This will be taken from the tariff being collected out of the ‘Rice Tariffication Law’ (RTL) and hoping [that] this can be given before Christmas,” he said, noting tariff collection has already reached about P11 billion, exceeding the P10-billion target for allocation to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program as mandated by Republic Act 11203 or the RTL.
The agriculture chief also said the program is apart from the DA’s P2.5-billion funding for the Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program (SURE Aid), a one-time loan assistance of P15,000 to small rice farmers at zero-percent interest rate payable for eight years.
“Iba pa ito. (This is different.) This is real cash assistance. [The] SURE Aid was loan assistance,” Dar said.
Eligible beneficiaries of both cash and loan assistance are those who are listed in the DA’s Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA), a nationwide database of farmers and fishers from various provinces, which serves as the basis for some of the government’s support programs.
FFF opposed to measure
The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) lambasted the proposed measure, pointing out cash assistance would not directly address the problems of local farmers affected by unimpeded rice imports.
FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor told The Manila Times the culprit was the surge on imported rice, proposing instead the imposition of general safeguard duties, which should have been done when the volume of rice imports reached a level more than what the country needed.
Montemayor added the proposed cash aid is palliative and did not address the root of the problem, reiterating a safeguard duty to limit further rice imports.
“Also, why only 600,000 farmers.? How about the other farmers who were also affected.? Third, can they legally touch the tariff proceeds in excess of P10 billion when the law says this will have to be appropriated by Congress,?” he added.
Montemayor also doubted the DA’s capacity to distribute the P3-billion worth of cash assistance by Christmas.
“What will be their mechanism to distribute? How will they validate the beneficiaries? The RSBSA is not reliable, and there will be the danger of nonqualified beneficiaries, politicians and bureaucrats again taking advantage of the money,” he said.
Rice imports allowed unimpeded into the country at the beginning of this year reached 2.5 million metric tons (MT) or nearly double the 1.3- million MT annual supply gap.
Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net