By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Agriculture and Food approved on Wednesday a substitute joint resolution urging Congress to authorize the use of the rice subsidy as provided in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.
After three hours of discussion, the House panel, chaired by Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga adopted the still unnumbered resolution in a bid to ease the plight of the country’s poor farmers.
“This measure will provide the needed funds to help the government intervene the falling prices of palay. This will surely alleviate the plight of our rice farmers,” Enverga said.
The substitute joint resolution mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in coordination with the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), to directly purchase palay of the local farmers and distribute rice subsidy in the form of actual rice, instead of cash.
The joint resolution substituted House Joint Resolution No. 16 and House Resolution No. 322, filed by Deputy Speaker for Finance Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte of Camarines Sur, and Tingog Sinarangan partylist Rep. Yedda Romualdez and House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez.
In an interview, Enverga said expected to be tapped for the implementation of the joint resolution are the DSWD’s last payout amounting to P2.7 billion under the rice subsidy program and the DND’s remaining allocations of P 2.89 billion that are allotted to the rice subsidy programs for military uniformed personnel.
He expressed hope that Malacañang would immediately certify as urgent the pro-farmers measure to ensure its swift approval.
“We are ready for second reading. Umaasa kami na sana naman makita ng Executive Department ang kahalagahan nito lalo’t higit ang timing nito. We are hopeful na sana magkaroon ng certification from the President para pagresume namin within that day ay kaya na namin matapos at maipasa ito at makapagbicam na kami ng Senate. (We are hoping that the Executive Department will see the importance of this, especially its urgency. We are hopeful that there will be certification from the President so that when we resume within that day, we can finish this and pass this and we can have bicam with the Senate),” the House leader said.
Congress will resume sessions on November 4 after a monthlong break.
Before the approval of the joint resolution, Secretary Adelino Sitoy of the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) said the Malacañang’s certification of the joint resolution will follow after the Lower Chamber’s approval of the joint resolution and the measure’s transmittal to the Senate.
“If this will be approved by the House and be forwarded to the Senate, we can work on the immediate certification,” he told the Enverga panel.
The PLLO Chief cited that as soon as they received the proposal, a technical working group was formed to come up with its own version of the joint resolution.
“We look forward to some refinement on the proposal. We would like to inform the body that the executive version is more or less the same with the House version. Instead of giving actual cash, it should be in the form of actual rice. The process should be through the 4Ps program,” Sitoy said.
According to the unnumbered House joint resolution, the 2019 GAA provides a total allocation of P 33.9 billion for rice subsidies, the largest of which is given to the beneficiaries of the DSWD under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) that can be utilized to buy palay directly from local farmers “at a very competitive and reasonable price.”
“The distribution of rice subsidy shall be in accordance with the procedure, guidelines, and distribution system to be determined by the concerned departments and agencies, taking into consideration actual levels of production and areas of priority, consistent with the government’s rice subsidy program, ” the two-page resolution said.
Under the CCT program, the beneficiaries receive a monthly rice susidy amounting P600 or equivalent to 20 kilos of rice, apart from the P300 cash assistance they receive per month.
Quoting the DSWD, the resolution said at least P6.97 billion remained undisbursed under the rice subsidy program.
“Despite the efforts made by the government to protect the local rice industry, large stocks of imported rice have depressed the buying price of local palay to levels way below the cost production,” the unnumbered joint resolution said.
It said the latest government statistics for the average palay prices plunged to P16.28 per kilogram from P23.10 per kilogram for the same period last year, which is the lowest palay price in seven years.
It cited President Duterte’s directive to NFA to expend their P7 billion budget for procuring palay from local farmers to provide immediate support and assistance to the local rice industry.
Citing the NFA report, the House joint resolution noted that some 209,525.15 metric tons of imported rice are in the government’s custody, as of August 22, 2019 and 5,864,007 bags of unhusked rice were procured locally at 50 kilos per bag or 293,200.35 metric tons.
“Currently, the warehouse of NFA is already full. The problem of oversupply is expected to exacerbate during the period from September to October which is the peak palay harvest season,” it said.
During the committee meeting, the DSWD and DND expressed full support to the House joint resolution.
DSWD Regional Director Gemma B. Gabuya said they identified six regions–Regions i, II, III, IV, V and VI as pilot testing areas for the implementation of the pro-framers program.
“We are drafting the memorandum circular in terms of the mechanics. We are awaiting the approval of this resolution so that we can transfer the funds initially discussed for the NFA to buy palay from farmers,” she said.
“We hope Congress can approve this resolution by November,” Gabuya said.
Major Haidee Tabangay said the DND supports the measure to alleviate the plight of the country’s poor farmers.
“We encourage military personnel to buy rice from authorised NFA dealers using their rice subsidy allowance,” she said.
The uniformed personnel of the Philippine Army, Philippine Air Force, Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and the Bureau of Fire Protection are entitled to the provision of 20 kilos of rice per month, in the form of financial assistance.
During the meeting, the NFA and DSWD assured the panel that they are ready to implement the program, should Congress approves the joint resolution.