By Hannah Torregoza
Senators on Sunday urged the government to expedite the release of the cash assistance to farmers and compensate them for their losses due to the excessive rice imports with the recent enactment of the Rice Tariffication Law.
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan noted that the government was taking too long to address the problem of replacing quantitative restriction on the importation of rice with tariffs. He said some lawmakers already predicted that this will happen even when Congress was still deliberating the law.
“Since August, when we have anticipated the misery that would befall our farmers, we have proposed immediate government response,” Pangilinan said.
“Now, three months hence, news reports are validating our calculations: farmers have lost at least P61.77 billion due to the continuous drop in farmgate price of palay,” he lamented.
Pangilinan also expressed alarm over a report of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) detailing the exodus of local food producers from fields to the cities to seek for a more relatively stable income source, non-wage benefits and better working conditions.
“The wife of a farmer in Nueva Ecija that my staff interviewed in August now works as a domestic helper in Metro Manila,” he pointed out.
“Imagine the hardship and sacrifice she endures –a mother who left her children to care for themselves so she could augment the further-reduced family income caused by the flood of rice imports,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan, who is also a farmer, said the government should act double time to help the farmers who suffered the onslaught of the rice tariffication law.
“Ang problema ng magsasaka ay problema ng pamilya. Solusyunan natin itong paglubog ng kita ng magsasaka bilang isang pamilyang Pilipino. Dapat apurahin na ng pamahalaan ang pagpapatupad ng mga solusyon para sa nasalanta ng batas (the problem of the farmers are the problem of the family. Let’s resolve the issue on the loss of compensation of our farmers as one Filipino family. The government should expedite implementing solutions for those who were affected by the law),” Pangilinan stressed.
Farmers must begin receiving cash compensation now to reimburse them for what they have already lost. This money will not only help them — and consequently help us rice consumers — continue farming, but in fact just survive,” he said.
“The crucial matter is that the government must act now. Sa kalagayan ng mga nagpapakain sa atin, akmang-akma ang kasabihang: ‘Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo’,” he pointed out.
Pangilinan also said the government should consider reviewing the Rice Tariffication Act and check local farmers’ readiness for global competition first before implementing it.
“As we call for cash compensation, we repeat our demand to review the Rice Tariffication Act leading to its repeal or suspension, until government has actually done its duty to prepare them for global competition,” he said.
Sen. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara echoed Pangilinan’s call and urged the government to use the excess funds that were collected beyond the P10-billion allocated for the rice competitiveness enhancement fund (RCEF).
“We included that provision in the proposed 2020 national budget, yung makokolekta beyond the P10-billion under the fund ay ibigay nap o as cash assistance sa ating mga magsasaka (collections beyond the P10-billion under the fund should be given immediately as cash assistance to our farmers),” Angara said in an interview over GMA News TV.
“So starting January, under that provision basta naipasa namin yung (as long as we pass the) budget on time, January 1, pwede nang gastusin agad, ibigay na agad yan (they can use that immediately, they should give it immediately),” Angara, chair of the Senate finance committee, stressed.