Amendment to rice law, increase in DA’s 2021 budget eyed | Inquirer Business

Amendment to rice law, increase in DA’s 2021 budget eyed

By: - Reporter / @kocampoINQ
/ 04:36 AM September 19, 2020

Palay farmers have remained the biggest losers of the rice tariffication law (RTL) despite the several assistance offered by the government, according to an industry and economic group.

Hence, Senator Risa Hontiveros said she would lobby for a higher annual budget for the Department of Agriculture (DA) for 2021 to bring immediate relief to the producers of the staple.

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In a webinar on Thursday titled “Unmasking the Hidden Costs of the Rice Tariffication Law,” Hontiveros said that while she was open to amending the much debated rice policy, the immediate solution would be to increase the DA’s annual budget to provide more interventions to palay farmers.

“I am open to amend the rice tariffication law to fill in the gaps [in the policy]. It is worrisome that based on studies, big importers and traders benefited from RTL and there are allegations that rice funds (are being lost) because of miscalculated tariffs,” she said.

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“[There must be] additional financial assistance and support programs for farmers by beefing up the regular DA budget,” she added.

Under the proposed national budget for 2021, the agency’s funding was cut by 17 percent from its current budget of P79.9 billion to P66.4 billion. This has caused concerns in both chambers of Congress given that ensuring food security is paramount in times of crisis.

Separate studies presented by the Federation of Free Farmers and the Action for Economic Reform (AER) showed that the deregulation of rice trade led to the decline in palay prices.

Political economist Fermin Adriano, who represented the DA in the webinar, said farm gate prices of palay had stabilized at P18 a kilo. However, Mindanao Development Authority chair Emmanuel Piñol said prices in Mindanao remained low at between P11 and P12 a kilo.

Adriano argued that the current evaluation of the rice law, which took effect only in March last year, could not be used as basis for changing or repealing the law. Industry groups, however, said the government must not wait for years before institutionalizing new reforms.

AER representative AJ Montesa said the RTL’s implementation could still be improved, especially in terms of distributing interventions under the rice competitiveness enhancement program. The DA must also update its farmers registry to ensure that rightful stakeholders would benefit from the policy.

The rice tariffication deregulated rice trade, allowing increased importation which made the country the world’s biggest importer of the staple.

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TAGS: national budget, Rice Tariffication Law, Risa Hontiveros
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