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Cash assistance to rice farmers firmed up

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By Madelaine B. Miraflor and Chino S. Leyco

Filipino rice farmers badly affected by the surge in the country’s supply of imported rice may soon receive cash assistance, thanks to the mutual agreement of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and the newly appointed Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

Farmers remove weeds growing alongside with ride stalks at a ricefield in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. (Reuters  file photo)

Farmers remove weeds growing alongside with ride stalks at a ricefield in Naujan, Oriental Mindoro. (Reuters file photo)

A statement showed that Dominguez and Dar have mutually agreed over the weekend the implementation of an emergency assistance program to help rice farmers who have been suffering from the declining price of palay (unhusked rice), a lingering trend since the Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) was passed earlier this year.

In a statement, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III said that tariffs from imported rice are likely to exceed the P10-billion annual collection target during the less than one-year implementation of Republic Act (RA) No. 11203 or the rice tariffication law.

RA 11203 was signed into law by President Duterte last March 5. Since then, the government already raised P5.9 billion in tariffs based on the preliminary data submitted by the Bureau of Customs to the DOF.

The annual tariff revenues in excess of P10 billion will enable further adjustment assistance for rice farmers for the remainder of the Duterte administration, Dominguez said.

Earlier Dominguez said he had no plans to stop or amend RA 11203 as a response to the request of farmers and rice industry stakeholders for the government to review the possible loopholes in the law, including its failure to significantly bring down the retail cost of rice.

Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) pointed out earlier that the retail price of rice barely became more affordable in the last months, only falling by a few pesos. This, while the price of locally produced palay, which now has a smaller market, have been going down significantly.

To be specific, the price of palay has gone down to as low as P12 per kilogram (/kg) in some areas in the country since the passage of RA 11203.

The request to review the law was coursed through former Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who said his differences with the economic managers on very critical issues, especially on RA 11203, have made his stay at the Department of Agriculture (DA) “untenable.”

Fast-forward to present, and with DA finally having a new secretary, Dominguez said farmers could indeed use some unconditional cash assistance program, which would help them “cushion the initial impact of lower palay prices on farmers as they transition to the new rice tariffication regime.”

The agreement between Dar and Dominguez particularly entails the distribution of cash assistance that will be allocated and distributed to RTL-affected farmers. This will be done by expanding the ongoing Survival and Recovery (SURE) program of the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC), an attached agency of the DA.

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