Farmer-millers: Is P10-B fund misused under rice tariff law?

THE Negros Occidental Farmer Rice Millers Multipurpose Cooperative (Nofarimco) has expressed apprehension on the possible misuse of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) under the rice tariffication law.

Jesus Jimenez, chairman of Nofarimco, said though some of the provisions of the law are perceived to be good for the farmers, they fear that there might be “corruption” like what happened to the Coco Levy Fund.

Jimenez said the fund allotted for the enhancement of local farmers under the tariffication scheme might benefit just a few.

“We really have to monitor the actual implementation of the program, or those stated in the law, to make sure that the enhancement fund will really benefit us farmers,” he added.

On Monday, April 1, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) have signed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) for the rice tariffication law.

This is more than a month after President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Act last February 15.

“The IRR is expected to formulate a rice industry roadmap for the development of this sector,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.

Rice tariffication will result in a switch from the previous quota system in importing rice to a tariff system, where rice can be imported more freely.

The law allows unlimited rice importation, but investors must first secure a phytosanitary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the 35-percent tariff for shipments from Southeast Asia.

This is expected to result in a decline of as much as P7 per kilogram in the domestic retail price of rice.

Various government agencies cited the gains of the law, such as giving farmers additional resources, reducing the price of rice, avoiding rice smuggling, and significantly reducing inflation.

For the small farmer-millers cooperative, the law is both an opportunity and threat.

Jimenez said they are upbeat that the law, if implemented properly, will result in provision of funds for mechanization, trainings and other incentives to the farmers.

“It could also be a threat, again, if corruption prevails,” Jimenez said, adding that their organization is composed of 37 regular small farmer-millers members having no milling facility of its own yet.

Provincial Agriculturist Japhet Masculino, however, maintained that the rice tariffication law is a threat to the local rice industry.

Masculino said one major effect of tariffication would be cheaper price of imported than locally produced rice, thus, there is a need to prepare local farmers.

“Our farmers really need the help of the government mainly in terms of lowering down production cost and increasing productivity,” he reiterated. (With reports from PNA)


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