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Farmers urge reassessment of RTL

Catherine Talavera - The Philippine Star
Farmers urge reassessment of RTL
“Three years after the passage of RTL, what have our farmers gained from it? We were promised that this law, quoting the Department of Agriculture, is a game changing reform policy that will break decades of inefficiency of the country’s rice sector and enhance its prospect of being globally competitive, but are we on target?,”Tugon Kabuhayan said in a statement.
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MANILA, Philippines — Food security group Tugon Kabuhayan is urging the government to assess the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL) and the impact of its Rice Enhancement Competitiveness Fund (RCEF) to see if the allocation needs to be revised based on farmers’ needs.

“Three years after the passage of RTL, what have our farmers gained from it? We were promised that this law, quoting the Department of Agriculture, is a game changing reform policy that will break decades of inefficiency of the country’s rice sector and enhance its prospect of being globally competitive, but are we on target?,”Tugon Kabuhayan said in a statement.

In a virtual forum yesterday, Tugon Kabuhayan convenor Asis Perez said the RTL is now up for review since it is almost three years since its implementation in March 2019.

The RTL created the RCEF, which allocates P10 billion annually for six years for support programs that will make Filipino rice farmers more competitive. The fund is sourced from tariffs collected from rice imports.

“With its automatic review under Section 13, we want to know if the annual P10 billion rice fund is being spent according to the law which says that 50 percent should go to rice farm machineries and equipment; 30 percent to rice seed development, propagation, and promotion; 10 percent for expanded rice credit assistance; and another 10 percent to rice extension services. Specifically, we want to know if this allocation should be revised based on what our rice producers really need,” said Asis Perez, Tugon Kabuhayan convenor.

Federation of Free Farmers Cooperative Inc. national manager Raul Montemayor said the RTL made a lot of promises, but didn’t benefit farmers.

Citing data sourced from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Montemayor emphasized that farmers’ income went down along with the prices of palay or unhusked rice, while consumers also didn’t benefit from it as they only saved P16.34 billion as opposed to the farmers who lost P66 billion since the law was passed.

He said the cost of producing palay also increased during the period.

Apart from the RCEF, the government also provides cash assistance to eligible farmers through the rice farmers financial assistance (RFFA) program, which is sourced from tariffs in excess of the annual P10 billion rice fund.

Montemayor, however, stressed that the cash assistance is only a band-aid solution to the problem.

“The government gives P5,000 per hectare, free seeds, etc., but it doesn’t fix the broken system that we have,” Montemayor said.

“Our government is saying that RTL is a success. It is denying that palay prices are going down. It dissolved consultancy groups that give advice regarding the state of our rice industry. There is no transparency when it comes to data. There should be open communication between the farming sector and the DA. There must be constant dialogue between the two,”Montemayor said.

Latest data from the PSA showed that the deseasonalized farmgate price of palay registered at P16.65 per kilo in October to December 2021.

This is 9.5 percent lower than the P18.39 per kilo farmgate price in the same period the year before.

For its part, the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura (MASIPAG) called for RTL’s abolition, saying that the P10 billion fund is not enough.

The group added that there are still many farms not receiving any financial aid.

MASIPAG Regional Coordinator Rowena Buena emphasized the need for transparency in the funds allocated for the RCEF.

“We don’t know where all that money is going or if it is being used properly. RTL didn’t improve the lives of our farmers. We already know that this law failed. Future implementation of RTL will not help. Give our rice farms the proper support and technology. Stop ignoring the problems,” she said.

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