Cash aid program for farmers discriminatory to some farmers

The senate proposal to use excess rice tariff collections exclusively for cash aid for farmers may be discriminatory to some farmers, a top official from the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) said.  

In a statement, FFF National Manager Raul Montemayor said the proposal, which is contained in Senate Bill (SB) 1927, is “highly discriminatory” considering that farmers tilling more than one hectare were also affected by plunging palay prices and the COVID-19 crisis.   

To be specific, under SB 1927, which was passed recently on third reading, all tariff collections in excess of P10 billion every year shall be given as cash aid to rice farmers tilling one hectare or less.  

(MB file, Keith Bacongco)

The amount is intended to help farmers cope with declining palay prices and the ill effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Farmers working on larger farms could have lost two or three times more than smaller producers if palay farmgate prices fell below production costs. They were also hit by calamities, and were not immune from COVID,” Montemayor said.

The FFF added that the Senate proposal deviated seriously from the original intent of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), which provided that excess tariff collections could be used not only for cash aid but also for crop diversification programs, crop insurance, and titling of lands acquired by farmers under the agrarian reform program.  

“The problems and needs of farmers may change over time, but the Senate has reserved the excess tariff revenues exclusively for cash aid all the way to 2024,” Montemayor said.

“Even then, the money is actually very small and may add up to only P3,000 to P5,000 per farmer per year, whereas farmers’ losses from depressed prices alone could average P20,000 per hectare annually,” he added.
The FFF proposed that funding for the cash subsidy be temporarily augmented by idle funds of the P10 billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which is earmarked for farm mechanization, seed distribution, credit, and farm extension under the RTL.  

Meanwhile, Montemayor decried the lack of consultations with farmers in the crafting of the aforementioned cash assistance plan.  

“The Senators were responsible for the drop in palay prices, when they passed the RTL without first preparing our farmers and putting in the proper safeguards. Now they want to appear as heroes by giving small sums of money to farmers affected by their law. They should instead amend the law so that it will stop harming farmers,” Montemayor said.