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Probe farmers’ plight — Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao
Senator Manny Pacquiao

AMID desperate pleas by the country’s 11 million farmers who are barely surviving because of the slump in the farm gate price of palay, Senator Manny Pacquiao has filed a resolution calling for a probe into the implementation of Republic Act 11203, otherwise known as the “Rice Tariffication Law” especially the utilization of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

According to Pacquiao, a lot of farmers and farmers’ organizations have sought his help as they blame the Rice Tariffication Law for the dramatic decline of the farm gate price of palay.

With a farm gate price that barely helps them to break even from their production cost, Pacquiao said that many farmers have actually stopped planting rice or have completely abandoned farming for their livelihood.

“Nalulungkot ako kasi isa ako sa mga author ng Rice Tariffication Law. When the measure was presented and explained to me, I was assured that our farmers will not be left behind. Pero kung papakinggan mo ang ating mga magsasaka, talagang halos umiiyak na sila dahil sa baba ng bentahan ng palay. Napakarami sa ating mga kababayang magsasaka ang dumudulog sa atin upang magpasaklolo,” Pacquiao said.

Before the implementation of RA 11203, the farm gate price of palay averaged at P21.39 per kilo but when imported rice started flooding the market, it instantly dropped to P17.88 per kilo.

Recent accounts from farmers show that in areas like Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, Sorsogon, Tarlac and Laguna, the farm gate price are at P7 per kilo up to P10 per kilo.

Pacquiao noted that under the law, the RCEF or the Rice Fund was set up to improve rice farmers’ competitiveness and income amidst liberalization of the Philippine rice trade policy that lifted quantitative restrictions on rice imports and replaced it with tariffs, among others.

RCEF has a P10 billion annual appropriation for the next six years which will be drawn from taxes generated from rice import tariffs.

Based on the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulation (IRR), 50% of the RCEF will be used for the mechanization of Philippine agriculture purportedly to raise productivity, increase profitability and heighten global competitiveness.

Thirty percent (30%) of the RCEF on the other hand will be allotted for the Department of Agriculture’s Seed Program, which would adopt the use of certified inbred seeds and integrated crop management.

The remaining 10 % percent will be used for the Expanded Rice Credit Assistance program which would fund loan facilities for farmers and another 10% for the Extension Services Program which aims to provide farmers the right training on how to properly manage their farms.

“On paper, napakaganda sana niyong RCEF na ito na nakalagay sa batas. Ang problema, mukhang wala namang nararamdaman ang ating mga farmers at wala namang nakakaabot sa kanila na biyaya. That is what I want to find out in this investigation,” Pacquaio said.

As an agricultural country and a leading research hub for rice production and agricultural technology, Pacquaio said that it really breaks his heart to hear the stories of hardships for many Filipino farmers who are the nation’s frontliners in the government’s fight against hunger.

Pacquaio said that President Duterte’s vision of eradicating hunger will not come into fruition if the farmers who are responsible for food production cannot even put food on their own table.

Pacquiao said that in exercising the Senate’s oversight powers on the implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law, he wants to find out how much taxes have been collected from rice imports, how much have already been allocated to the RCEF and how much have already been disbursed to help the farmers.

“Kailangan natin malaman kung nagagamit ba talaga sa tama ang pondo na inilaan para sa ating mga magsasaka. I also want to find out if there might be a need to amend the Rice Tarrification Law because this early, the law is already showing very serious flaws,” Pacquiao said.

He also wants to know if the National Food Authority (NFA) is compliant with the provision of RA 11203 which requires the agency to buy only from local farmers at a fair and just price to maintain the country’s rice buffer stock.

“As one of the authors of this law, I would like to know if the law was really what it was meant to be. It was supposed to help our people because it would mean cheaper staple for every Filipino family. It was supposed to provide us the opportunity and the access to fund agricultural modernization,” Pacquiao said.