Ungab nixes actual rice subsidies in lieu of cash for 4Ps beneficiaries this year

Published January 13, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Charissa Luci-Atienza 

Davao City Rep. Isidro Ungab doused cold water on Sunday (Jan. 12) on the proposal to do away with a special provision in this year’s budget of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) to provide actual rice subsidies to its beneficiaries instead of the cash provided for by law.

The chairman of the House committee on appropriations said since the P4.1 trillion national budget for 2020 was signed on Jan. 6, 2020, there is no way for Congress to amend it and introduce such an amendment, particularly a budget provision on the conditional cash transfer program.

“We can no longer amend the budget law – it’s already signed by the President and his proposal was not part of the [bicameral] report,” Ungab told the Manila Bulletin in a text message.

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House committee on agriculture and food, had asked Congress to scrap a special provision under the 4Ps budget that specifically states that rice subsidies for the beneficiaries will strictly be given in cash.

He made this appeal to help rice farmers affected by rice importation policies.

Under the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program, beneficiaries receive a monthly rice subsidy of P600 cash, equivalent to 20 kilograms of rice, apart from the P300 cash assistance they receive per month.

Ungab assured Enverga that his panel will expeditiously act on a bill seeking to authorize the use of the rice subsidy, as provided for in the 2019 General Appropriations Act, for the purchase of palay (unhusked rice) from farmers.

Ungab said they will tackle House Bill (HB) No. 5583, principally authored by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, when Congress resumes session on Jan. 20.

Enverga earlier batted for the plenary approval of Villafuerte’s measure. It was the Enverga panel that referred the bill to the appropriations committee after approving it on Dec. 11, 2019.

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 subsidies in the form of actual rice instead of cash to qualified beneficiaries.

Villafuerte, the principal author of the bill, sought the passage of the bill, saying “the government must do its best to help local farmers cope with the liberalization of rice importation.”

In its Dec. 11, 2019 deliberations, the Enverga panel decided that only compliant beneficiaries of the 4Ps program will be entitled to the rice subsidy.

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.

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 provided that the target areas for rice purchase shall be the 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 the provision and decided that the proposed act will cover all provinces which have the lowest prices of palay at a given time.

HB 5583 also provides that a year-end report of the program implementation shall be submitted by the DSWD to both Houses of Congress to determine its performance and effectiveness.