By Mario Casayuran
Senator Francis N. Pangilinan said Monday the P1.5-billion loan package of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for rice farmers affected by the influx of cheaper imports is welcome, but pointed out that the rice farmers have already lost at least P60 billion, and they are in need of immediate cash assistance.
‘’We thank Agriculture Secretary William Dar for acting swiftly for the benefit of our farmers. This loan package is a big help,” Pangilinan said in a press statement.
He said that the blow that the Rice Tariffication Law dealt on farmers was so devastating that a one-time loan to farmers would definitely not suffice.
‘’Our farmers need urgent cash assistance. They are suffering, we should listen to their cry for help,” he added.
The new agriculture secretary announced that affected rice farmers tilling at most one hectare of land may avail of a one-time, zero-interest loan amounting to P15,000 payable up to eight years under the Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program for Rice Farmers (SURE Aid).
At the sidelines of a forum on hybrid rice on Friday, August 16, Dar said SURE Aid, which will start September 1 this year, will replace the P5,000 conditional cash transfer (CCT) he announced earlier; the conditional cash transfer would cost the government about P6 billion to benefit about 1.1 million rice farmers.
One of Pangilinan’s proposals to ease the suffering of rice farmers was for a P25,000 zero-interest loan under SURE.
Dar also said the National Food Authority (NFA) would also buy the produce of rice farmers, who would avail of the loan assistance under the SURE Aid program.
Pangilinan said the NFA palay-buying scheme must include those who won’t avail themselves of the loan, and at prices that would help Filipino rice farmers survive the competition from cheap imports.
In a privilege speech last August 13, Pangilinan proposed several options to help Filipino rice farmers survive the implementation of the law:
1. Front-load the cash assistance safety net provision in the law, which only provides for cash assistance after the P10-billion tariff collection mark is reached. Pangilinan proposed that the entire tariff collection estimated at P10 billion as of July 2019 be entirely allocated to cash assistance.
2. Release the unprogrammed P10-billion allocation from the 2019 budget entirely for cash assistance to rice farmers.
These proposals would total P20 billion, Pangilinan said, a third of the losses already felt by rice farmers.
The other proposals are:
3. Increase the tariffs from current 35 percent to 47 percent as provided both by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and our laws on anti-dumping and safeguard measures for special safeguard (SSG) duties and general safeguard duties.
4. Have the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) enforce the Price Act and issue suggested retail prices for the guidance of manufacturers and go after price manipulators.
5. Have the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) implement the cash-for-work program for rice farmers.