House panels OKs bill distributing rice tariff surplus as cash aid to farmers

The House Committees on Agriculture and Food and on Appropriations on Wednesday, May 26, have approved the measure that authorizes the Department of Agriculture (DA) to use the annual tariff revenues in excess of P10-billion as cash assistance to rice farmers until 2024.

House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Mark Enverga proposed to amend the title of House Bill No. 8964 to replace the word “farmers owning” the land to “farmers farming” two hectares or less of rice land.

The bill originally intended to distribute the amount in excess of the annual P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) gained from collected tariffs on rice imports as cash aid to farmers “owning one hectare or less of land.”

Under the Rice Tariffication Law, the government is mandated to allocate P10-billion yearly for the RCEF for six years.

The RCEF is earmarked for rice farm machinery and equipment, rice seeds, expanded credit assistance and rice extension services such as training for farmers.

Once enacted into law, the first tranche of cash assistance utilizing RCEF surplus will be included in the proposed 2022 national budget. The Senate approved its version of the bill in December last year.

During the hearing, an official from the Bureau of Treasury informed lawmakers that the 2019 rice tariff collections amounted to P12.135-billion, marking a P2.135-billion excess.

For 2020, the total tariff collections from imported rice were pegged at P16.269-billion, marking an excess collection of P6.269-billion. However, the BOT said the figures are still subject to confirmation by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Deputy Speaker and Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez said he supports the bill “as this will give a financial lifeline to our rice farmers.”