Senators seek probe into use of P10-B farmers' fund

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 02 2019 03:14 PM

MANILA - Several senators have raised concern about the use of the P10 billion annual fund meant to help farmers affected by the influx of imported rice.

The five-month old Rice Tariffication Law created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), which provides P10 billion a year to farmers to help them cope with the influx of imported rice.

Sen. Cynthia Villar has filed a resolution seeking a probe into the use of the multi-billion fund, saying the budget department already released half of the amount last December but it was not yet clear whether this has been utilized.

Villar, chair of the Senate agriculture and food committee, said she wants to know where the funds have gone.

She noted that P5 billion should be given to the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) for the purchase of agricultural machineries, P3 billion to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for the training of farmers, P1 billion to the LandBank and Development Bank of the Philippines for the provision of cheap credit to farmers, and the remaining P1 billion for the tuition of farmers and payment to their trainers.

"I have to exercise my oversight function to make sure they follow the law. Kasi this is very important, this is the competitiveness of our farmers,” Villar told reporters.

“We have liberalized the importation of rice so we have to make our farmers as competitive as soon as possible.”

Sen. Francis Pangilinan, also an advocate of farmers’ rights, meanwhile, filed a resolution asking Villar’s committee to conduct an inquiry on the impact of the Rice Tariffication Law on rice farmers and the local rice industry.

“Farmers tell us that their earnings dropped further with the implementation of the law. ‘Rice tariffication is killing us’ said one farmer from Nueva Ecija who approached us,” Pangilinan said in a statement.

“The impact of the law on our farmers is swift and brutal but the implementation of the provisions aimed at easing this severe effect is slow if non-existent. Where is the help from the P10-billion RCEF?”

Pangilinan said consumers also have yet to see rice prices going down since the enactment of the law, which was meant to flood the market with imported rice and address skyrocketing prices that also drove inflation rate to high levels.

“Who benefited from this policy? It looks like we’ve suffered a double whammy,” Pangilinan said.

Detained Sen. Leila de Lima also filed her own resolution seeking to assess the impact of the five-month old law.

De Lima, chair of the Senate social justice committee, said it is incumbent upon the Senate to guarantee that both the Filipino rice consumers and farmers would benefit from the law's strict implementation.

"Our mandate as lawmakers does not stop once a bill becomes law. In the exercise of our oversight function, we need to see to it that the agency responsible for implementing it could ensure that the law would protect, not displace, our farmers," De Lima said in a statement.

"It is incumbent upon the Senate to assess the impact of this law and ensure, among others, that its provisions on importing of the national food staple and enforcement of tariff rates are properly implemented and not abused, at the detriment of our local farmers.”

De Lima said she has received information from the Federation of Free Farmers that some importers paid "less than what was due from them", if not reduce their tariff obligations by "deliberately lowering the declared value of their imports in connivance with their suppliers abroad."