By Madelaine B. Miraflor
A group of farmers blasted the government for excluding Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) in the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund’s (RCEF) Program Steering Committee (PSC) in the final version of Rice Tariffication Law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations.
“I simply cannot understand why the government does not want farmers in the PSC when we could contribute so much to the proper implementation of the RCEF. Farmers are not only beneficiaries of the fund, but should also be recognized as valuable partners of government in achieving food security and agricultural development,” said Raul Montemayor, National Manager of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF).
Under the Rice Tariffication Lawl, which will allow the entry of more imported rice into the country, an initial budget of P10 billion should automatically be injected to RCEF, which is where all the tariff to be collected from all the imported rice set to enter the country under a liberalized regime should go.
The fund will be used to make Filipino rice farmers competitive so they can produce equally cheaper rice.
Right now, the cost of producing rice in the Philippines stand at P12 per kilo, which is more than half of the production cost of Thai and Vietnamese rice farmers. Thus, making the locally produced rice more expensive than the imported supply.
Under the recently released IRR of the Rice Tariffication Law, PSC should be formed to “oversee and provide policy directions on the implementation of the programs funded by the Rice Fund, in accordance with the Philippine Industry Road Map.”
Montemayor, who is also the chairman PCAF, noted that the inclusion of PCAF representatives in the PSC was incorporated in the original drafts of the IRR.
“Nobody raised any objections to this proposal in the public consultations on the IRR. Government representatives who attended the consultations and drafting meetings did not express any reservations about farmer representatives in the PSC. So, we are both surprised and disappointed that this provision suddenly disappeared in the final version of the IRR,” said Montemayor.
The PCAF is a network of national, regional, provincial and municipal agriculture and fishery councils where private stakeholders regularly dialogue and interact with the DA and other government agencies in the monitoring and evaluation of programs for farmers.
Montemayor added that it was very ironic that Rule 15.2 of the same IRR stipulated that the Rice Road Map should “include the participatory structure, mechanisms, modalities… for farmers to actively and meaningfully engage in the implementation of the Act”.
He added that the proposal to include farmer representatives in the PSC was intended to avoid a repeat of the experience with the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) where huge blocks of funds were cornered by relatively large business enterprises.
Montemayor argued that the PCAF, which operates under the Department of Agriculture (DA) structure, would have been the ideal vehicle for farmers to consolidate and relay their feedback on RCEF implementation to the steering committee. Based on the IRR of the Rice Tariffication Law, the DA is the sole agency tasked to handle and utilize RCEF.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol insisted the other day that once the IRR of the Rice Tariffication Law takes effect, there should be an upfront injection of P10 billion to the RCEF.
This, as he admitted that there was indeed a misunderstanding between the DA and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) about the initial amount of P5 billion that was supposedly injected to RCEF as early as December.
Former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said in February that P5 billion has already been released under the 2018 national budget to protect farmers from possible adverse effects of the lifting of the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) on rice. This, according to him, should be complementary to RCEF.
But Piñol clarified that the P5 billion went to the country’s National Rice Program but not to RCEF.
“I told them it couldn’t be considered as part of RCEF because its allocation didn’t follow the RCEF guidelines,” Piñol said. “Once the IRR takes effect, we will insist that we should get the whole 10 billion for RCEF because that is in the law”.
Piñol said that the RCEF is included in the “unprogrammed” budget of DA for this year.
“As the official solely responsible for supervising the utilization of the RCEF, I assure the Filipino rice farmers that the interventions covered by the RCEF will be delivered as soon as the funds are released,” he further said.
Bulk of RCEF, or about P5 billion, will go to Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PHilMech) primarily to help mechanize the rice sector as well as reduce post-harvest losses. Some will go to Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for seed distribution.
In March, PHilMech Deputy Director Raul Paz said even if RCEF will be made available this month, his agency — used to handling only P200 million to P300 million budget every year — could not immediately distribute machineries all over the country.
Before PhilMech could spend such allocation, Paz said his agency would first need to hire more people, get more vehicles for effective transportation, and expand its procurement unit.