Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Ray Villafuerte said Sunday he will file this week a joint resolution to provide congressional authorization for an immediate special fund for rice.
He said the resolution would allow the Agriculture department to use all rice import tariff collections in excess of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund in setting up a special emergency fund for farmers affected by softening farm-gate prices of palay.
The measure, if passed, would allow the department to distribute direct cash transfers to small farmers to help them cope with low palay prices during the main harvest season as a result of the lifting of the quantitative restrictions on imports under the rice trade liberalization law.
“The farm-gate prices of dry palay dropped by as much as P10 per kilo in several rice-producing areas following the implementation of Republic Act 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Law in March this year, resulting in huge income losses for rice farmers and the industry, which is now estimated at around P50 billion at current prices,” Villafuerte said.
To modernize the farm sector and make local palay growers globally competitive, RA 11203 provides for the creation of the RCEF that will have an annual appropriation of P10 billion over the next six years, and to be sourced from the tariff revenues collected by the Bureau of Customs from the rice imports.
Villafuerte said that, from the time the law took effect in March up to the end of October, Customs collections from rice import tariffs had already reached P11.4 billion, or an excess of P1.4 billion in revenues supposedly earmarked for the RCEF.
The excess amount plus subsequent Customs collections until the yearend should be channeled to his proposed rice farmer financial assistance program to bankroll a cash transfer system for palay farmers. That would be similar to the cash subsidies that low-income households and other vulnerable sectors are now getting separately from the social protection initiatives of different government agencies, Villafuerte said.
“Rather than wait for the excess amount to be appropriated under the national budget for the following year when this was collected, the Congress should act now and do its share in helping our distraught rice farmers survive this temporary drop in palay farm-gate prices and the transition to the new rice tariffication regime,” he said.
“There is an urgent need to immediately set-up the rice farmer financial assistance as a supplementary and transitional safety measure to serve as compensation to rice farmers.”