By Ellson Quismorio
Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is eyeing at least two realignments within the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020, and one of them will be meant to address the crisis besetting local rice farmers as a result of the Rice Tariffication Law.
According to Cayetano, the House of Representatives, which possesses the power of the purse, will work to raise the National Food Authority’s (NFA) palay (unhusked rice) purchasing fund from the current proposed amount of P7 billion to at least P9 billion.
“Yung P7 billion na pambili ng palay ay kulang na kulang if we want to solve yung crisis sa presyo ng palay (The P7-billion fund for the purchase of palay is not enough if we want to solve the crisis on palay prices),” he told House reporters Tuesday afternoon following a caucus with congressman-colleagues.
“Definitely [we will increase it to] not lower than P9 billion, but we’re looking for much more,” Cayetano said, referring to the budget realignment process.
Republic Act (RA) 11203 or the controversial Rice Tariffication Law has been blamed for the huge drop in farm gate prices of local palay, which according to reports is now P8 to P12 per kilo. This is because the law liberalized the importation of cheaper rice varieties to the Philippines, making it hard for local farmers to sell palay that they harvested.
The NFA is mandated to purchase palay from local farmers as a form of assured income.
“I think the DOF already collected more than P9 billion [in tariffs from rice imports],” said Cayetano, who represents Taguig-Pateros.
“Yung collection sa tariffication dapat naman sa farmers mapupunta–yun ang intention [of the law]. So as I’ve said yung unintended consequence na sobrang baba [ng farm gate price], and some of the abuse nung ibang middlemen is causing all of these. So kailangan din nating i-accelerate yung solution,” he said.
(The collection on tariffication must go to the farmers–that’s the intention of the law. So as I’ve said the unintended consequence of very low farm gate price, the abuse of some middlemen is causing all of these. So we need to accelerate the solution.)
However, it should be noted that the augmented fund for the purchase of palay may only be tapped by the NFA no earlier than January 1, 2020, granted the General Appropriations Bill (GAB) or the proposed national budget is approved on time.
Camp development fund
Another likely realignment, the Speaker said, would be the establishment of a fund that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and Philippine National Police (PNP) could use in fixing their respective camps or headquarters.
“Ang focus ng ating Pangulo is on security, and makikita niyo parating naghahagilap ng pondo ang PNP at AFP, paano ayusin yung mga camp (Ang President is focused on security, and we always see the PNP and AFP scrambling to look for funds to improve their camps),” he said.
“So in the same manner [that we have a] school building program, we want to put [up] a camp development fund.”
Cayetano bared that he initially proposed a P500-million fund each for the AFP and PNP for this purpose, but said, “of course the AFP and PNP needs much more than that.”
He said the fund will cover the construction of walls around camps to discourage informal settlers, as well as the purchase of equipment like closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras for the barracks.
“Ang point ko lang is walang specific item ngayon sa budget [for this]…So I think it’s about time that we have a five or 10-year program na maayos yung police and military camps natin all over the country,” Cayetano added.
(My point is that there’s no specific item for this in the budget right now…So I think it’s about time that we have a five or 10-year program for the improvement of police and military camps all over the country.)