By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
Senator Cynthia Villar clarified on Monday that the transfer of the P3-billion fund from the National Food Authority’s (NFA) proposed 2020 budget to the Land Bank of the Philippines will also be used to assist local rice farmers affected by the Rice Tariffication Law (Republic Act 11203).
Villar defended her suggested amendment to the P4.1-trillion proposed 2020 national budget after Albay Representative Joey Salceda questioned it as among the Senate’s supposed “dagdag-bawas” or realignments in the government’s spending plan.
In a phone interview with the Manila Bulletin, the senator said her proposed P3 billion fund transfer was adopted by the Upper Chamber to make sure that local rice farmers will benefit from the funds appropriated for them.
“That P3 billion was given from the DA (Department of Agriculture) to the Land Bank as cash assistance to farmers because we don’t want the funds to be with the NFA because it might end up not being used to buy palay from farmers,” Villar explained in mixed English and Filipino.
“At least there is a provision [in] the budget that they will give something to the farmers to cover for the low price of unmilled rice,” she added.
If approved by the President, the P3 billion, she said, would be distributed to farmers owning at least one hectare of land at a rate of P5,000 each.
This would be on top of the assistance offered to farmers in the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under RA 11203.
Villar said she already discussed her proposed amendment with House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and members of the bicameral conference committee tackling the 2020 budget, who agreed to the realignment.
“Cong. Salceda is just not aware,” she said.
Salceda is a member of the House bicameral panel.
Despite this, Villar said she would wait for Congress’ final copy of the 2020 General Appropriations Bill (GAB).
Aside from the P3-billion realignment, Villar said she also proposed the inclusion of a provision in the Senate’s version of the 202 GAB mandating the Department of Social Welfare and Development to use its rice subsidy fund under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program to buy from local farmers and give beneficiaries actual rice instead of cash.
Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and is an author of the Rice Tariffication Law, has repeatedly chided the NFA for failing in its mandate to purchase palay from Filipino farmers for its buffer stocking, which was blamed for the shortage in the supply of affordable rice last year.
Because of this, lawmakers stripped NFA of its authority to regulate rice importation in the country, allowing the unimpeded entry of rice imports in exchange of tariffs.
Under RA 11203, “The NFA shall, in accordance with the rules, regulations and procedures to be promulgated, maintain sufficient rice buffer stock to be sourced solely from local farmers.”