By Charissa Luci-Atienza
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur 2nd district Rep. Luis Raymund “LRay” Villafuerte pushed on Sunday (May 17) for a bigger funding allocation for agricultural development in the proposed 2021 national budget to better equip the country for the “new normal” and reset the economy.
He said aside from infrastructure and social services, “the long-term goal of attaining sufficiency in rice and other basic foodstuff in the post-pandemic scenario” should be prioritized under the the proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA).
“Alongside ‘Build, Build, Build,’ the Duterte administration needs to likewise put ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ on the front burner to best prepare the country for the ‘new normal’ once the pandemic spawned by the lethal COVID-19 has been contained,” Villafuerte said in a statement, even as he welcomed the Duterte government’s proposed five-pronged priority agenda, which included the Build, Build, Build infrastructure development program and food production as among the priorities to rebuild the economy.
The principal author of Republic Act (RA) No. 11469 or the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act said he is seeking “a two-fold, or even three-fold, increase in the 2021 budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA).”
He called on Congress “to augment the 2020 outlay of the Department so it could dramatically boost agricultural productivity in the year’s second half and in 2021.”
“While rebooting the President’s centerpiece infrastructure modernization program would enable the economy to stage a quick recovery as soon as the pandemic is over, giving top priority as well to agriculture development would boost farm output that would, hopefully, make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice and other basic foodstuff in the long run,” the House leader said.
Villafuerte batted for a P31 billion extra or emergency allocation for the DA this year to “increase agri-fishery output through the large-scale use of high-yield quality seeds, vital farm inputs like fertilizers, and modern technologies to increase levels of productivity for all commodities.”
He said the P31 billion funding is needed for the DA’s implementation of its Ahon Lahat, Pagkaing Sapat (Alpas) Kontra sa COVID-19 program, which seeks to raise agricultural productivity and achieve food sufficiency during and after the global health crisis.
“The DA has secured an extra P8.5 billion for the rice-resiliency component of its Alpas project, but is still awaiting Palace approval for the balance of P21.5 billion for the rest of its self-sufficiency program,” the House leader noted.
Villafuerte also pointed to the need to increase the National Food Authority’s (NFA) budget to buy more palay (unhusked rice) from local farmers “at a higher support price.”
“If there is one thing that the ongoing global health crisis has taught us this early, is the primacy of self-sufficiency as countries isolate themselves and shutter their businesses in a frantic bid to prevent the spread of a highly infectious pathogen that has sickened almost two million people and killed over 123,000 across the globe,” he said.
He expressed his concern that some countries are planning to reduce or shelve the export of their rice stocks and other prime agricultural products, to guarantee enough supply for their people during the health crisis.
Villafuerte described as “disturbing” Vietnam’s plan in March to reduce or even put off exports of its surplus rice stocks to ensure reliable and sufficient food supply for its own people.
He noted that Vietnam is the primary source of the Philippines’ rice imports, accounting for about two-thirds of such shipments. Other main sources of imported rice are Thailand and Myanmar.
Citing reports, Villafuerte noted that Russia also intended to cut its grains shipments abroad to protect its own food security, while Kazakhstan has also banned the overseas sale of its wheat flour, carrots, sugar, and potatoes.
“What happens when the time comes after the pandemic when we might have all the money to import rice or other basic agricultural commodities, but there is nowhere to buy them?” he said.
He saiid the social amelioration subpanel of the House’s Defeat COVID-19 committee (DCC) has passed House Resolution (HR) No. 821 backing a supplemental budget for the DA for its food supply availability and price stabilization programs.
Villafuerte, the subpanel’s co-chair, also earlier pushed for a three-year, P1.5-trillion stimulus program that seeks to reset the economy and create jobs.