A worker sun dries newly harvested unhusked rice grains as they make the most out of the sun in Pulilan, Bulacan, Sept. 10, 2018. — PHILIPPINE STAR/MICHAEL VARCAS
A REGULATOR in charge of licensing agriculturists called on the government to immediately release to farmers the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), saying that if this component of the Rice Tariffication Law is not implemented, it would “sabotage” the law.
“Importante na ’yung timing ay ngayon kaysa bukas dahil kung hindi mangyayari ngayon masasabotahe ang tariffication [It is important that we do it sooner rather than later because if we do not, this will sabotage tariffication],” V.L. Sonny Domingo, deputy commissioner of the Board of Agriculture of the Professional Regulation Commission said at a forum in Quezon City Monday.
Rice tariffication allows private firms to import rice more freely, with the tariffs generated funding RCEF. RCEF in turn will help rice farmers mechanize and expand access to credit, fertilizer and seed.
“Kung hindi lalabas ngayong June… masisira ’yung momentum ng implementation ng tariffication [If the funds are not released by June… it will break the momentum of the tariffication process],” he added.
He also warned that rice imports could exceed 2 million tons — the volume he calculates will meet consumer demand that domestic producers cannot fill, putting further pressure on prices and farmer incomes. One of the factors putting pressure on domestically produced rice is the prospect of competing with cheap imports brought in under rice tariffication.
According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), prices of palay, or unmilled rice, have been declining for five weeks. The latest data for the 5th week of March puts average farmgate prices at P18.8 per kilogram, down 0.16% from a week earlier.
“Magkaroon lang sana ng [There should be a] government guarantee from LANDBANK and DBP to lend money equivalent to P10 billion to farmer organizations that are proposing to modernize their farming systems,” he told BusinessWorld over the phone.
The status of RCEF was momentarily in doubt while the 2019 budget remained unsigned. The Agriculture department has said that once the budget is enacted, it will work towards releasing the entire RCEF to farmer-beneficiaries. — Vincent Mariel P. Galang