By Vanne Terrazola
Senator Cynthia Villar on Monday urged the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to revisit proposals to tap the government’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program to help local farmers cope with the liberalization of rice importation.
“DSWD can help ease difficulties as we transition to the ‘tariffied’ rice importation regime by using its P28-billion rice subsidy under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to buy rice from local farmers,” Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture, said.
Villar made the appeal in the wake of the complaints of local rice farmers about the dwindling farm gate prices of palay due to the enactment of the Republic Act No. 11203, the Rice Tariffication Law.
Villar noted that the plan to tap the DSWD’s 4Ps has been raised last year, wherein local farmers would produce rice for 4Ps beneficiaries in their community.
Rice was supposed to be made available in the Bigasan ng Bayan of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to do away with transport costs.
But the plan was shelved due to “logistical requirements,” she recalled.
“Take another look at this proposal so that local farmers would have a market for their rice produce, Villar appealed.
“I hope, given our situation now, our government will be more receptive to this proposal as we wait for the full benefits of the rice tariffication law to be felt by the local industry,” she added.
Under the 4Ps, beneficiaries are entitled to a 20-kilo rice subsidy per month but were given cash instead of rice. The government provides P600 per month per household beneficiary.
Last week, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said the government is already finalizing the conversion of cash subsidy into rice. A memorandum of agreement is expected to be signed between the DA and the DSWD.
Aside from the DSWD, the National Food Authority was also urged to buy unmilled rice from local farmers.
The Philippines Statistics Authority (PSA) recently reported that farm gate prices of palay dropped to an average of P8 to P10 per kilogram, which was below the production cost of P12/kg.
At the continuation of the Senate food and agriculture’s oversight hearing on the implementation of the rice tariffication law last September 3, Villar insisted that the buying price for palay has been P17/kg for several years.
She said it was “too much to ask” that palay farm gate prices be raised to P21/kg as she warned that this would hurt consumers in the long run.
RA 11203, which took effect in March this year, replaced the quantitative restriction on the importation of rice with tariffs.
Villar, sponsor of the law in the Senate, reiterated that the tariff collection would be used to fund the P10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) allocated for programs to help local rice farmers.