By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Josefa Imelda “Imee” Marcos has assured local rice farmers of an additional P6.9 billion in assistance by December which she said would be in the form of palay purchases or cash using undisbursed funds from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Marcos gave the assurance on Sunday amid fears that a memorandum of agreement among the DSWD, Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA) to purchase palay from local farmers “was held in abeyance” following a Supreme Court decision in October, preventing budget allocations for items not specified in the national budget through a mere resolution in Congress.
Earlier, both the Senate and the House of Representatives approved joint resolutions to convert cash aid from the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) into rice, to be bought from local farmers who are unable to compete with cheap rice imports.
But the SC ruling in the case of Ang Nars party list would require that the law enacting this year’s national budget, the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA), be amended before the relief measure could be implemented.
“The Senate hopes to amend the 4Ps allocations in the GAA by December, before the rice harvest season ends and unspent budget revert to the general fund,” Marcos said.
“As we speak, both Houses are rushing (passage of) a bill, in compliance with the new Supreme Court ruling to amend GAA 2019, I am confident it will pass in time,” Marcos added.
Marcos said the P6.9-billion aid from the DSWD budget, she said, will answer the President call on lawmakers to help local rice farmers adjust to the rice tariffication law during the harvest season and will augment the P5,000 cash assistance promised by the DA before Christmas.
Meanwhile, Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has urged the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to investigate why the dip in rice prices do not match the drop in palay prices.
Pangilinan said the PCC should investigate and correct this anomaly as it further negates the benefits of having a Rice Tariffication Law.
“Ibig sabihin, hindi sinasagot ng Rice Tariffication Law ang pangakong ibaba ang presyo ng bigas para sa mga consumers; at pinahirapan lang ng batas ang mga magpapalay dahil sobrang baba na ng presyo ng palay (This means that the Rice Tariffication Law does not fulfill its promise to lower rice prices for consumers; and the law only causes our rice farmers hardships because of low palay prices),” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan cited the November 8 update on rice and corn prices from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that the farmgate price of palay further dropped to P15.43 per kilo from P15.49 per kilo, while the average wholesale price of well-milled rice also dipped to P37.60 per kilo from P37.76 per kilo.
“How can massive rice importation be good for all when both the consumers and the rice farmers don’t benefit?” said Pangilinan.
At the same time, Pangilinan renewed his call for the government to immediately compensate the farmers for the billions of pesos in losses they have incurred with the flood of rice imports.
“It is the government’s duty to save those devastated by this law,” he said.
The Liberal Party president has repeatedly called on the government to fast-track the release of initial P3-billion for the direct cash compensation to rice farmers whose livelihood has been affected by the law.