AFTER much finger-pointing on where a portion of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) was alloted to, the Department of Budget (DBM) and Management on Wednesday vowed to release that portion — P4 billion — to help increase farmers’ productivity and income.
During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food on Wednesday, Sen. Cynthia Villar raged over the “unaccounted” P4 billion of the RCEF, a component of Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law.
She asked the DBM where the said amount was actually allocated to, after the department earlier this year released P5 billion of the fund to the Department of Agriculture (DA), of which P1 billion went to loans for farmers.
Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo replied: “[R]ight now, given the P5 billion released last year, tapos may balance na P1 billion doon sa ACPC, so ang ire-release na lang namin is P4 billion.”
Toledo made the promise after Villar grilled him for saying the amount released earlier was already part of the RCEF.
“Sabi niyo sa akin, ayaw niyo na mag-release ng P5 billion ulit… [A]ng gulo-gulo niyo… [I-]clarify niyo,” the senator said.
Through the RCEF, the DA, through the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech), will provide farmers with machinery and equipment worth P5 billion, free high-yielding seeds worth P3 billion from the Philippine Rice Research Institute, P1 billion for credit, and P1 billion in training through the Agricultural Training Institute.
Signed in February, the Rice Tariffication Law removed restraints on the importation, exportation and trading of rice and replaced these with tariffs. It also aims to provide different forms of assistance to the country’s rice farmers, such as the development of inbred rice seeds and rice farm equipment, and skills enhancement.
Under the law, the country will apply a 35-percent tariff on rice shipments from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members, 40 percent for in-quota or within the minimum access volume from non-Asean members, and 180 percent for out-quota and non-Asean or as calculated by the Tariff Commission.
According to the Bureau of Customs, tariffs collected on rice imports reached P7.425 billion from March to July.
The bureau expects collections to reach P1.5 billion a month, exceeding the P10-billion amount to be allocated for RCEF.
Annual tariff revenues in excess of P10 billion would be used to further assist rice farmers.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar earlier said the DA would allocated the excess funds to strengthen the country’s hybrid rice program, which is currently considered as the most viable option in raising farmers’ yields without additional rice lands, leading to increased rice productivity and profitability.