The Senate agriculture committee approved on Friday the proposal that would allow the government to disburse its excess tariff collections from rice imports as cash assistance to small farmers.
Senate Joint Resolution No. 12 seeks to authorize the use of excess collections by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) under the Rice Tariffication Act (Republic Act No. 11203) this year to be included in the General Appropriations Act of 2021 for assistance to farmers displaced by the pandemic and the plummeting prices of palay.
In the online hearing, Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate agriculture panel and proponent of the joint resolution, said that tariff collections from January to September this year amounted to over P13.61 billion according to the customs.
She said the BOC has also yet to disburse some excess tariff collections from 2019.
“So together, we want that money to be used as cash assistance for the rice farmers,” Villar said.
She noted that RA No. 11203 provides that if revenues from rice importation exceed P10 billion within the six years following its enactment, the excess shall be earmarked by Congress to help rice farmers and be included in the GAA.
“[Congress] will choose if they will give it to rice farmers as financial assistance, the titling of agricultural lands, expanded crop insurance program on rice and crop diversification,” said Villar, principal author of the Rice Tariffication Law.
“I think we should put it as financial assistance to rice farmers…Because I think we would prefer to just give it to rice farmers instead of allocating it for programs. The Department of Agriculture (DA) has a lot of programs for rice, anyway,” she said in mixed English and Filipino.
“Bigay na natin lahat ng excess sa mga farmer…para huwag na nilang sishihin ‘yong Rice Tariffcation (Let’s give all of the excess tariffs to the farmers so they will no longer blame the Rice Tariffication Act),” she said later.
Villar said the excess revenues could be divided to the 600,000 farmers owning one hectare of land and below. But Agriculture Secretary William Dar reported that based on their updated records, there were already about 1.1 million farmers owning one-hectare of land and below.
Supporting the measure, Senator Francis Pangilinan said the cash grant will benefit farmers amid the oversupply of rice in the country and the decline in the palay prices.
Dar said the average farmgate price for fresh palay currently ranges from P12 to P14/kg while P15 to P17/kg for dry palay, based on DA data.
During the hearing, Villar told the DA to stop allowing rice importation amid the dwindling palay prices.
“Pigilin mo yong BPI mo, ayaw tumigil ng kabibigay ng import permit eh bagsak na bagsak na ‘yong presyo ng palay (Stop the Bureau of Plant Industry from issuing import permits, prices of palay are so low),” Villar told Dar.
DA officials earlier said they expect the local farmers to produce 20 million metric tons of rice this year, which would equate to about 93 percent of the country’s total rice demand.
“Bakit ayaw pigilin ‘yong pag-issue ng import permit (Why can’t you stop issuing import permits)?” Villar said, estimating that only 1.4 million MT of rice should be imported from other countries.
Dar said the government halted last September its issuance of import clearances and that the ones arriving were from those they allowed in the previous months.
Pangilinan, meanwhile, reminded his colleagues of the Supreme Court decision ruling that joint resolutions do not have the same effect as law.
Villar said they could convert and report the measure as a bill instead, while Pangilinan said it could also be included as a provision in the proposed 2021 GAA.
The committee chair said they will finalize it in their report.