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Villar defends rice tariffication bill: It will help farmers survive onslaught of rice imports

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Senator Cynthia Villar on Thursday defended the rice tariffication bill, which is only one signature away from passage into law, from criticisms that it would do nothing to improve the lives of rice farmers.

She stressed that the package of support for farmers included in the rice tariffication bill is government’s response to the expiration last June 30, 2017 of the quantitative restriction (QR) on rice importation under the agreement with the World Treaty Organization (WTO).

Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, noted that Senate Bill 1998 or the bill which replaces the quantitative import restrictions on rice with tariffs, creates the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund or Rice Fund.

“When cheap rice imports start flooding the market, a program that will provide preferential attention to rice farmers, cooperatives and associations adversely affected by the tariffication should be established. We will be doing our farmers a great disservice if we let them face the challenges of a tariffied system without support mechanisms in place,” Villar said.

Villar also lamented the “disinformation intentionally circulated to discredit” the rice tariffication bill and to block the passage of the needed support measures for local rice farmers.

“It is unfortunate that some groups are being made to believe that the rice tariffication bill which we have scrutinized and carefully studied in the Senate, will not be beneficial to farmers,” she said.

“On the contrary, it includes a package of support programs that will help farmers adjust to competition under a tariffied regime,” she said.

A certified measure, the bill is already submitted for the President’s signature after Congress ratified the bicameral conference committee report last week.

Under the bill, the 10-billion Rice Fund will be allocated as follows:

· 50 percent will go to the Philippine Center for Post Harvest Development and Modernization (PhilMech) to provide farmers with rice farm machineries and equipment;

· 30 percent will be released to the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) to be used for the development, propagation and promotion of inbred rice seeds to rice farmers and the organization of rice farmers into seed growers associations engaged in seed production and trade;

· 10 percent will be made available in the form of credit facility with minimal interest rates and with minimum collateral requirements to rice farmers and cooperatives to be managed by the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines; and

· 10 percent will be set aside to fund extension services by PhilMech, Agricultural Training Institute (ATI), and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for teaching skills on rice crop production, modern rice farming techniques, seed production, farm mechanization, and knowledge/ technology transfer through farm schools nationwide.

Also under the bill, the excess rice tariff revenues and the P10 billion fixed appropriation for the

Rice Fund shall be released to the Department of Agriculture and shall be used for providing direct financial assistance to rice farmers as compensation for the projected reduction or loss of farm income arising from the tariffication.

Further, the rice tariffication bill earmarks a portion of the excess rice tariff revenues for the titling of agricultural lands, expanded crop insurance program on rice and the crop diversification program.