By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The chairman of the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries is asking the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) to ensure that all rice farmer families would benefit from the grants and loans as provided for under the newly-signed Rice Tariffication Law.
Panel chairman Leyte Rep. Henry Ong said that under the law, LBP has been given the specific mandate to manage the credit facility component of the law.
“The effectiveness of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund in addressing the plight of all farmers is a key measure of success of the rice tariff law. We want this fund to serve all farmers, whether they are members of cooperatives or not,” he said in a statement.
The Rice Tarrification Law provides the creation of the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, which sources its funding from all duties collected from the importation of agricultural products, except rice, and the Rice Fund, which comes from duties on rice imports.
“Landbank must make sure all rice farmer families nationwide are covered by the Fund’s grants and loans, especially those who are ‘unbanked’ or do not yet have bank accounts and those who are victims of floods and other calamities,” Ong said.
He also asked the Landbank “to keep their management costs to a minimum so that their service charges will only be a tiny fraction of the grants and loans to the farmers.”
On Friday, President Duterte signed the Rice Tarrification Law, according to Cabinet officials.
Congress ratified the measure on November 28, and transmitted it to Malacanang on January 15 for President’s signature.
For his part, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, co-author of the rice tarrification measure, said that, with the signing of the law, the agriculture sector could gain more access to lending facilities.
He noted that under the law, Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) allocates 10 percent of its P10 billion allocation – or P1 billion – for credit to farmers and cooperatives.
“The RCEF would directly provide farmers the facilities they need to boost their incomes and make them competitive in the global market,” Villafuerte said.
In a separate statement, Anakpawis Party-list Rep. Ariel “Ka Ayik” Casilao said he would file a bill that would repeal the law after 15 days upon its publication or the date it shall legally effect.
“I would like to save the government the effort of crafting its implementing rules and regulations, and will promptly file for the repeal,” he said.
“I refuse to accept that Filipinos will rely on rice, coming from as far as 1,467 or 2,265 kilometers, to be freighted 907 or 1,418 nautical miles, which is totally contrary to food security,” the lawmaker referring to the Saigon and Laem Chabang ports, of Vietnam and Thailand, respectively, towards the port of Manila.
He said the Philippines’ reliance for rice supply from other countries threatens our national “sovereignty with vulnerability”, citing the newly-signed law is against the principles of Philippine Constitution.
“Relying on other countries for food is not food security, and will threaten improved quality life for all, the basic human right to food, a self-reliant and independent economy, comprehensive rural development, agrarian reform, and rights of farmers and farmworkers, all said in the Constitution to be promoted and protected,” he said.
Casilao branded the law as a “tombstone for the Philippine rice industry” as it would impact the livelihood and welfare of 2.4 million rice farmers and more farm workers.
“This will undermine the P350 billion – 19 million metric ton – palay sector. This is clearly betrayal of the people’s and national interest,” he said.
He said President Duterte would definitely earn the ire of tens of millions of rice stakeholders, including the poor consumers with the implementation of the law.
“Hunger, poverty, death, will be the only legacies, are the poor to remember with this regime. Thus, we must resist the destructive impact of flooding of imported rice and demand the repeal of this law,” Casilao said.