Farmers’ association calls cash-assistance bill a departure from rice competitiveness goals

farmers association calls cash assistance bill a departure from rice competitiveness goals - Farmers’ association calls cash-assistance bill a departure from rice competitiveness goals

SENATE BILL (SB) 1927, or the proposed Cash Assistance for Filipino Farmers Act of 2020 runs counter to the original intent of Republic Act (RA) No. 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law, which was to fund competitiveness initiatives for the rice industry, a farmers’ organization said.

In a mobile phone message, Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) National Manager Raul Q. Montemayor said the Senate bill is not in accordance with RA 11203’s original intent, which is to help farmers who are affected by the entry of imported rice.

“What they are proposing now deviates from the original intent of the law both in the manner by which the funds are appropriated and in the use of the funds,” Mr. Montemayor said.

On Dec. 6, the Senate unanimously approved SB 1927 on third and final reading.

Under the bill, financial assistance to farmers will be sourced from rice import tariffs in excess of the P10 billion a year allocated by RA 11203 to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The bill’s proponents have said that farmers have been suffering due to recent calamities and low prices for palay, or unmilled rice.

As of the third week of November, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that the average farmgate price of palay rose 1.6% week on week to P15.63 per kilogram, well below the P19 per kilogram maximum buying price of dry palay set by the National Food Authority.

The bill identifies those eligible for cash aid as rice farmers tilling one hectare of land or less, with the Department of Agriculture (DA) in charge of determining the beneficiaries from those listed in the Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture.

“Farmers are also asking why the cash aid is limited to those tilling one or two hectares or less when all farmers regardless of farm size have been affected by falling palay prices and other events,” Mr. Montemayor said.

Former Agriculture Undersecretary and current Monetary Board member V. Bruce J. Tolentino said the bill is more inclusive and will be helpful to more farmers.

“The proposed SB 1927 — if enacted — will certainly help farmers who till land of size one hectare and below,” Mr. Tolentino said.

The DA had yet to reply to requests for comment on the FFF’s position at deadline time.

In an October hearing, Senator Cynthia A. Villar said the Bureau of Customs has collected P13.86 billion worth of import tariffs in the year to date.

Under RA 11203, an annual budget of P10 billion sourced from import tariffs is allocated to RCEF, which will provide aid to farmers in the form of seed, machinery, and extension services. — Revin Mikhael D. Ochave

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