Sen. Cynthia Villar today stressed that the package of support for farmers included in the rice tariffication bill is government's response to the expiration last June 30, 2017 of the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice importation under the agreement with the World Treaty Organization (WTO).
Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, said Senate Bill 1998 or the bill which replaces the quantitative import restrictions on rice with tariffs, creates the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or Rice Fund.
"When cheap rice imports start flooding the market, a program that will provide preferential attention to rice farmers, cooperatives and associations adversely affected by the tariffication should be established. We will be doing our farmers a great disservice if we let them face the challenges of a tariffied system without support mechanisms in place," Villar said.
A certified measure, the bill is already submitted for the President's signature after Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report last week.
Also under the bill, the excess rice tariff revenues and the P10 billion fixed appropriation for the Rice Fund shall be released to the Department of Agriculture and shall be used for providing direct financial assistance to rice farmers as compensation for the projected reduction or loss of farm income arising from the tariffication.
Further, the rice tariffication bill earmarks a portion of the excess rice tariff revenues for the titling of agricultural lands, expanded crop insurance program on rice and the crop diversification program.
The Nacionalista Party senator also said the bill seeks to remove the factors that the Philippine Institute for Development Studies identified as barriers to the Filipino farmers' competitiveness. These are the lack of mechanization, the lack of good seeds, and the lack of access to cheap credit.
Villar also said the bill, if enacted into law, will provide for a more focused function for the National Food Authority, which is to buy palay from local farmers only.
Villar also lamented the disinformaton intentionally circulated to discredit the rice tariffication bill and to block the passage of the needed support measures for local rice farmers.
"It is unfortunate that some groups are being made to believe that the rice tariffication bill which we have scrutinized and carefully studied in the Senate, will not be beneficial to farmers. On the contrary, it includes a package of support programs that will help farmers adjust to competition under a tariffied regime," Villar said.