A bicameral conference committee is expected today to take up the Rice Tarification bill, which is lined up for approval into law before the year ends after being certified urgent by President Rodrigo Duterte, according to Senator Cynthia Villar.
The country’s economic managers underscored the need to pass the rice Tarification bill into law for a long-term solution to inflation since the skyrocketing rice prices fueled inflation.
“If they will do it the right way, our rice would become cheaper,” assured Villar responding to the query on the lowering of the cost of rice once the bill is enacted into law.
Asked if it will be ratified before session break for the Christmas vacation, Villar replied, “yes, of course.”
The Nacionalist party senator also lamented the misconceptions, ehich she claimed, were intentionally circulated to discredit the rice tariffication bill and to block the passage of the needed support measures for local rice farmers.
Villar said that the bill includes a package of support programs that will help farmers adjust to competition under a tariffied regime.
Villar is the principal sponsor of Senate Bill 1998 or the bill which replaces the quantitative import restrictions on rice with tariffs, lifting the quantitative restrictions on rice, and creating the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or Rice Fund.
The Senate passed the bill on third reading last week and the bicameral conference committee is set to be held on today.
“Remember, the need to impose tariff is an obligation under the World Treaty Organization agreement, which the country is a signatory to. It will be more difficult to deal with trade sanctions if we don’t abide by the agreement,” Villar pointed out.
“We will be doing our farmers a great disservice if we let them face the challenges of a tariffied system without support mechanisms in place,” she added.
The senator also said the bill seeks to remove the factors that the Philippine Institute for Development Studies identified as barriers to the Filipino farmers’ competitiveness. These are the lack of mechanization, the lack of technical know-how, the lack of financial literacy and the lack of access to cheap credit.
The Federation of Free Farmers and Centro Saka Inc, are among the groups quoted by reports as opposed to the bill.
Villar stressed that under the bill, the excess rice tariff revenues and the P10 billion fixed appropriation for the Rice Rice Fund shall be released to the Department of Agriculture and shall be used for providing direct financial assistance to rice farmers as compensation for the projected reduction or loss of farm income arising from the tariffication.
Under the bill, the 10-billion Rice Fund will be allocated as follows:
· 50% wil go to the Philippine Center for Post Harvest Development and Modernization (PhilMech) to provide farmers with rice farm machineries and equipment;
· 30% will be released to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to be used for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and the organization of rice farmers into seed growers associations engaged in seed production and trade;
· 10% will be made available in the form of credit facility with minimal interest rates and with minimum collateral requirements to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines; and
· 10% will be set aside to fund extension services by PhilMech, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for teaching skills on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, farm mechanization, and knowledge/ technology transfer through farm schools nationwide.
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