Senator Villar welcomes Dar with challenge to ‘return’ tariffication funds to rice farmers

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Senator Cynthia Villar on Monday put to task the new Department of Agriculture (DA) secretary to "return" to the rice farmers the funds allocated to them under the rice tariffication law.

Sen. Cynthia Villar (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN) Sen. Cynthia Villar
(Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, urged William Dar to prioritize the implementation of Republic Act 11203 or the law which liberalized rice importation in the country and provided the creation of the P10-billion Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund (RCEF) to help local farmers compete with imported rice.

It was reported on Monday that Dar, former director-general of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat), was appointed by President Duterte to lead the DA, replacing now Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chair Emmanuel Piñol.

He also briefly served as DA secretary under President Joseph Ejercito-Estrada's term.

Earlier, Villar bared that the Department of Budget and Management released P5 billion in December last year in anticipation of the enactment of the law creating the RCEF. RA 11203 was signed on February 14.

But of the amount, only P1 billion went to RCEF as cheap credit for farmers.

"Kahit sabihin pa nila na kaya ginastos iyon dahil hindi pa napapasa ang RCEF, dapat naghintay sila at hindi ginastos sa ibang bagay (Even if they say that they used the amount because the RCEF was not yet signed into law, the DA should have waited and not spent it on other things). I want DA to account for the remaining P4 billion and also to make sure that P4 billion will be immediately returned to RCEF,” Villar said in a statement.

The agriculture committee chair said the amount needed to jumpstart the programs enumerated in the law, which was already delayed by the late approval of the 2019 General Appropriations Act.

She added that it would be a violation of the RA 11203 should the agencies say that only P5 billion is left for the farmers' funds.

Under the law, the RCEF shall be allocated for the procurement of farm equipment for distribution to 947 rice-producing towns in the Philippines (P5 billion); for farmers' training on inbred seed production (P3 billion); credit facility for rice farmers (P1 billion); and skills training on rice farming (P1 billion).

Villar had filed a resolution calling for a Senate inquiry on the implementation of the rice tarrification law, specifically the disbursement of the RCEF.