Senator Francis Pangilinan urged the government to give at least P728 million in “excess” rice taxes as cash aid to farmers, who are reeling from the decline of the price of palay or raw husked rice grains to a “measly” P12 per kilo.
Of P10.728 billion in tax collections from the Rice Tariffication Law as of July, only P10 billion is needed to fund the government’s Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Program. Any amount beyond that P10 billion may be allocated as direct assistance to farmers, the opposition senator said in a statement on Wednesday, September 30.
Pangilinan was the Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization for a time under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“We have an excess collection of P728 million as of July, and this should directly benefit the farmers especially in these hard times,” said Pangilinan, adding that the amount must have increased since then.
“The life-saving measure is direct cash assistance especially to the small farmers now suffering from the plunge in the prices of palay, and from the lack of other livelihood opportunities due to the pandemic,” he added.
Farmers have been seeking government aid since farmgate prices of palay plunged to as low as P12 per kilo, from the National Food Authority’s buying range of P17 to P20 per kilo.
Pangilinan also suggested that the government buy all its rice requirements from local farmers, and restrict imports especially during the harvest.
Recto: Don’t burden local governments
In a separate statement on Tuesday, September 29, Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto said local government units (LGU) should not be burdened with having to buy palay from their local farmers.
Many LGUs’ funds are already depleted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Recto said, and the national government cannot expect them to still deal with the crash in palay prices.
Recto said he is counting on the agriculture and trade departments to come up with plans to avert the losses of millions of rice farmers, and he hopes the President would immediately implement their recommendations.
Still, LGUs who can afford it would do well to buy rice directly from local farmers, Recto added.
Since it was enforced in 2019, the Rice Tariffication Law has opened the Philippines to an influx rice imports – albeit with higher tax rates – by removing quotas. With local farmers unable to compete, the measure threatens to keep pushing local rice prices down.
Pangilinan urged the Department of Agriculture to “address this phenomenon.” He also called on the Cabinet’s economic cluster to make an updated accounting of taxes collected on rice imports, to determine how much can be given as cash aid to farmers.
The Philippines has overtaken China as the world’s top rice importer, Pangilinan pointed out. If this persists, Filipino farmers may lose the incentive to keep producing the national staple.
This would then hurt the country’s rice supply, as 80% of its consumption still comes from the local crop. Imports cannot supply the entire country’s demand for the staple, Pangilinan warned.
“It’s lamentable thinking about the hardships of our farmers in tilling the soil and then getting a measly P12 for every kilo of palay, while at the other end of the spectrum are officials getting away with PhilHealth funds in a breeze,” Pangilinan said in an earlier statement.
He was referring to the corruption scandal involving the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation, some of whose top officials allegedly embezzled P15 billion in public funds.
Pangilinan is one of several lawmakers who have called for a review of the Rice Tariffication Law.
“Hindi pwedeng gutom ang nagpapakain sa atin. Kailangan silang matulungang magpakain sa ating lahat,” Pangilinan said. (It won’t do that those who feed us go hungry. We must help them feed the rest of us.) – Rappler.com