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Cash aid for farmers proposed

A proposal authorizing the Department of Agriculture to use the excess rice tariff revenues for direct cash assistance to farmers was approved by two House committees Wednesday*

Two panels in the House of Representatives approved a measure authorizing the Department of Agriculture to use the excess rice tariff revenues under the Rice Tariffication Law as direct cash assistance to farmers.

In a virtual hearing Wednesday, the House Committee on Agriculture and Food and the Committee on Appropriations approved House Bill 8964, or the proposed Cash Assistance for Filipino Farmers Act.

Appropriations Committee chairperson Eric Go Yap, author of the bill, emphasized the urgency of intervening for farmers in light of the current state of declining palay prices and the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The DA shall be authorized to use the annual tariff revenues in excess of P10 billion directly remitted from the Bureau of Customs for direct cash assistance to farmers cultivating two hectares of rice lands until 2024.

“This provision to our farmers shall provide them with immediate aid and assistance, most especially during these difficult times,” Yap said.

The bill directs the BOC to remit to the DA the excess funds.

The BOC and the DA shall submit separate reports to Congress by yearend, through the House Committee on Agriculture, on the remittance of funds and the actual disbursement for the year, respectively.

Citing latest data, the BOC said it has collected P14.6 billion in revenues from January to November 2020 from the 2.25 million metric tons of rice imports during the 11-month period.

Meanwhile, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to lower rice tariffs is the “best option” amid the prevailing pandemic.

Panelo assured the public that the reduction of tariff rates on imported rice underwent a thorough review.

Executive Order 135, inked by Duterte on May 15, lowers the tariff rates on imported rice to 35 percent from 40 percent for in-quota imports and 50 percent for out-quota imports for a year.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the rice tariff cuts were necessary to ensure rice security in the country and address the 10-percent supply shortfall. Roque also assured local farmers and rice producers that the government would not import rice during the harvest season so as not to affect the local prices of the food staple.*PNA

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