By Ben Rosario
The House of Representatives has assured farmers that safety nets will be in place to help them absorb the impact of the shift to tariffication in rice importation.
Majority Leader and Camarines Sur Rep. Rolando Andaya Jr. aired the guarantee as the Lower House is set to pass on third and final reading this week House Bill 7335 providing for the scrapping of the current system of quantitative import restrictions and replacing it with tariffs.
“There are safety nets. There is one school of thought that the projects to help farmers be advanced instead of waiting for them to be funded by income from the duties on rice to be imported,” Andaya said.
He added: “There is merit on that proposal. More so in the light of the DA statement that its budget for next year was reduced from P61 billion to P55 billion.”
Andaya said the same proposal will be considered for other government agencies dealing with agriculture like the National Irrigation Authority and the Philippine Coconut Administration.
He noted that NIA subsidy has been reduced by P5 billion under the proposed 2019 national budget.
Andaya said DA’s budget may still be increased but it’s “absorptive capacity” must be considered.
“You don’t set up the safety net when the person it is supposed to catch is already falling,” he said.
Last week, the Lower House passed HB 7735 on second reading. Third reading approval is expected this week.
HB 7735 consolidates seven different legislative proposals filed separately by their respective authors: former president and Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Representatives.Jose T. Panganiban Jr. (ANAC IP Party-list); Sharon Garin (AAMBIS-OWA Party-list); Rico Geron (AGAP Party-list) and Cecilia Leonila V. Chavez (Butil Party-list).
Aside from the tariffication of rice importation, HB 7735 also creates an Agricultural Competiveness Enhancement Fund to finance, through credit, productivity programs of farmers and fisherfolk; research and development on agricultural and fishery products of state universities and colleges and comprehensive and attractive grant-in-aid programs for the two sectors, including forestry and veterinary medicine.
HB 7735 has been certified an urgent administration bill by President Rodrigo Duterte.