Senator Cynthia Villar is thankful after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his final State of the Nation Address on July 26, lauded the passage of three important legislations in agriculture, which she authored, and included them among his administration’s accomplishments.
These laws are the Free Irrigation Service Act (FISA) or Republic Act 10969, the Rice Tariffication Law or RA 11203, and the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act or RA 11524.
“On behalf of the farmers and fisherfolks, I thank President Duterte for his support in the development of the country’s agricultural sector and for the promotion of food security,” said Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food.
FISA, which was passed on November 20, 2017, exempts all farmers with landholdings of eight hectares and below from paying irrigation service fees.
Free irrigation was a campaign promise of President Duterte.
The Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act is aimed at developing the coconut industry using recovered coco levy assets. This would benefit the country’s 3.5 million coconut farmers from 68 coconut-producing provinces, who own at most five hectares for the last 10 years.
The law also seeks to create a trust fund for these farmers through the selling of assets procured through the coco levy fund.
“The coconut farmers are the poorest in the country. They earn only about P1,500 a month. The trust fund will be used for programs, in addition to the programs of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) which will be given a separate budget,” said Villar.
She said the use of the funds will be for planting, replanting, intercropping, processing, marketing, formation of cooperatives, crop insurance, credit, health, education, TESDA training and infrastructure.
It also mandates the Bureau of Treasury to infuse P10 billion to the trust fund in the first year of its implementation. Another P10 billion will be transferred in the second year, P15 billion in the third year, P15 billion in the fourth year, and P25 billion during the fifth year.
The government started collecting coco levy funds from coconut farmers in 1971 through levies, taxes, charges, and other fees imposed with the sale of copra rececada.
Aside from coconut farmers, the funds were collected from millers, refiners, processors, exporters, and copra end-users.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the coco levy funds were publicly-owned, prompting the government to craft ways on how to develop the coconut industry using the multi-billion assets.
The Rice Tariffication Law, meanwhile, lifted the quantitative restrictions on rice. To protect local farmers, it imposed tariffs on imported rice, and the revenues collected created the Rice Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund (RCEF) that will make the rice industry more competitive. It took effect in March 2019 and will continue for 6 years.
It also mandated the allocation of P10 billion annually to be implemented by specific agencies under the Department of Agriculture.
These are PhilMech, which gets P5 billion to finance mechanization; PhilRice, P3 billion for inbred rice seeds distribution and development; P1 billion for loans jointly shared by Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines in training for farmers; P700 million to TESDA; and P100 million each to the Agricultural Training Institute, PhilMech and PhilRice.
The law aims to make local farmers competitive by lowering production cost and increasing yield per hectare of palay. It targets to lower domestic rice prices and make it affordable to the public.
Villar is optimistic that the strides that these pieces of landmark legislation will pave the way to a more vibrant agriculture sector in the years ahead.