By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, took exception to the allegations of Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) about her inaction and supposed support of Executive Order (EO) 135 issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on May 15.
EO 135 lowered the tariff rates on rice to 35 percent from 40 percent for In-quota and 35 percent for 50% from Out-quota. Effectively the lowering of tariff for Most Favored Nation (MFN) would mean that all imported rice without distinction as to country of origin and volume would be subjected to 35 percent tariff for a period of one year. This was done to help “diversify the country’s market sources, augment rice supply, maintain prices affordable and reduce pressures on inflation.”
In a letter to FFF, Villar cited that she has always been a staunch supporter of the local agricultural industry and sought for the improvement of the welfare of Filipino farmers. And the laws she authors always empower and enrich the lives of our farmers. Thus, she said, “By alleging that I have remained silent and thus supports the lowering of tariff on rice is unacceptable.”
FFF itself noted that Villar opposed the proposed tariff cut during the Tariff Commission hearing last February 4. The senator noted that she has made her position against the EO in several hearings, correspondences and meetings with the Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar, other members of the Executive Department and her fellow senators but to no avail.
Regarding Senate Resolution No. 726 or the “Resolution Urging the President to Withdraw Executive Order No. 135, Series of 2021, Temporarily Modifying The Rates of Import Duty on Rice Under Section 1611 of RA 10863, Otherwise Known as the “Customs Modernization and Tariff Act” filed by minority senators, Villar said she cannot tackle it in the Senate since the proposed resolution was not referred to her committee, but to the Committee on Ways and Means.
“I want to reassure our rice farmers that I will continue to take into the highest consideration their welfare in the exercise of my functions. While the issuance of the questioned EO is under the President’s power, I will do everything in my power to work on other aspects of agriculture that would counter the ill effects the EO on the rice sector,” Villar cited.
“Before the end of 2020, I have initiated the Senate Bill No. 1927 or the ‘Cash Assistance for Filipino Farmers Act of 2020’ which was passed in the Senate, with all senators in favor last 07 December 2020. The House version of which is currently being deliberated on. The bill proposes to use all rice tariff collections beyond PIO billion as financial aid to the farmers owning 1 hectare and below starting 2020 until end of 2024,” said Villar.
The PhP10-billion under the law she passed created the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The PhP10B a year is distributed as follows: fifty percent (50%) in the form of rice farm machinery and equipment for the mechanization program, to be implemented by PhilMech for farmers coops, associations and LGUs; thirty percent (30%) for inbred rice seed development, propagation, and promotion, to be implemented by PhilRice for rice farmers registered in the Registry System of Basic Sectors in Agriculture; an expanded rice credit assistance (10%) equally managed by LandBank of the Philippines (LBP) and the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) in the form of credit facility with minimal interest rates and minimum collateral requirements to rice farmers and cooperatives; and an extension services program (10%) – to enhance the capabilities of the Rice Fund beneficiaries on modernized inbred rice and seed production and other relevant skills for improved competitiveness and income through scholarships being implemented by TESDA, ATI, PhilMech and PhilRice in farm schools nationwide.
For 2019 and 2020, through RCEF, PhilMech has procured and awarded a total of 15,908 units of various agricultural machineries and equipment valued at PhP1 billion while under the 2020 budget PhP623.097 million has been delivered. PhilRice on October 2019 to March 2020, cropping season has distributed 1.37 million bags of seeds to 555,545 farmer beneficiaries covering 698,000 hectares of rice land. For the wet season 2020 covering March to October 2020, 2.27 million bags of certified inbred seeds have been released to local government on its third season of implementation to 862,854 farmer beneficiaries covering one million hectares of rice land. Nearly 1.308 million sacks of free inbred rice seeds have been delivered to 663 municipalities to 144,037 beneficiaries under the PhilRice RCEF Seed Program.
Landbank has disbursed 88.5% of its RCEF portfolio for the first two years while DBP has obligated 67%, or a total f PhP1 .5 billion as of February 2021.The extension component was able to reach out to 26,513 farmer trainees, extension workers and training specialists in 2019 and 2020. (AI/MTVN)