By Charissa Luci-Atienza
The House Committee on Agriculture and Food vowed on Monday, January 6 to pursue the plenary passage of a bill seeking to authorize the use of the rice subsidy as provided for under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in the 2019 General Appropriations Act (GAA) for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.
Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the panel, said House Bill No. 5583, principally authored by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, has been referred to the House Committee on Appropriations, chaired by Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab, for its deliberation and approval.
“We will still pursue for plenary approval upon approval of Committtee on Appropriations,” he said in a text message to the Manila Bulletin.
He noted that his panel approved the measure on December 11, 2019, and immediately referred it to the Ungab panel.
“Unfortunately, the Appropriations committee was busy at that time with the proposed national budget for 2020 and the bicameral conference,” Enverga said.
HB 5583 mandates the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), in coordination with the National Food Authority (NFA) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), to buy palay from local farmers, and distribute rice as subsidy, instead of cash assistance, to qualified beneficiaries.
Villafuerte, principal author of the bill, noted that under the 2019 General Appropriations Act, the allocation for rice subsidy amounts to P28.51 billion, and same amount has been allocated for 2020.
“In order to promote the welfare of farmers, this allocation should be used to buy rice from local farmers, which will be then distributed to poor families covered by the 4Ps. The government must do its best to help local farmers cope with the liberalization of rice importation,” he said.
The Enverga panel decided that only compliant beneficiaries of 4Ps will be entitled to the rice subsidy.
Under the CCT program, the beneficiaries receive a monthly subsidy amounting to P600 or equivalent to 20 kilos of rice, apart from the P300 cash assistance they receive per month.
HB 5583 provides that the beneficiaries of the conditional cash tranfer shall be entitled to rice subsidy, which shall be given in actual kilos of rice, instead of cash.
The bill tasks the DSWD, together with NFA and DA, to set the procedures and guidelines in the purchase of palay from farmers, and distribution of rice to the 4Ps beneficiaries.
The beneficiaries shall receive their rice subsidy from the DSWD-designated outlets, it said.
The Department of Finance (DOF) and the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) shall be involved in the crafting of the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed Act.
Section 5 of the bill originally provides that the target areas shall be rice producing provinces of Pangasinan, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan. Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Oriental and Occidental Mindoro, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zamboanga del Sur, and Iloilo.
But, the Enverga panel decided to scrap such provision, and decided that the proposed Act will cover all provinces which have very low prices of palay at a given time.
HB 5583 provides that a year-end report of the program implementation shall be submitted to the DSWD to both Houses of Congress to determine its performance and effectiveness.