MANILA, Philippines – A visibly irked Senator Cynthia Villar grilled the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) over how the agencies handled the funds to support farmers negatively affected by the rice tariffication law.
During a hearing on Wednesday, August 28, Villar questioned why it is taking so long for the DBM to release the remaining P4 billion for farmer support.
She also questioned how the DA used up the P4 billion the DBM released in 2018 and told the agency to properly account for all expenses.
What does the law say? The rice tariffication law's goal is to liberalize the rice industry to lower domestic rice prices.
The law, which was signed by President Rodrigo Duterte just last February, is clear that P10 billion must be allocated each year by the national government to the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).
The RCEF, which will be collected from higher rice import tariffs and other sources, will be used to support local farmers in a more competitive market environment. The aid will come in the form of loans, as well as farming tools and seeds. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Will rice tariffication live up to its promise?)
What happened to the funds? In December 2018, before the law was signed, the DBM released P5 billion to the DA. The DBM said it did so in anticipation of the signing of the law.
Of the P5 billion, the DA said P1 billion went to the Land Bank of the Philippines and the Development Bank of the Philippines for loans to farmers. P4 billion went to the agency's rice program, which is not part of the RCEF and has its own budget.
Aside from that, another P1 billion went to the DA's Agricultural Credit Policy Council, for a total of P6 billion released.
Villar questioned how the DA used up the P4 billion for the rice program, and even asked the agency to "return" the funds and reallocate it to the RCEF.
"Dapat naghintay sila (DA) at hindi ginastos sa ibang bagay (The DA should have waited and not used up the funds for other things)," said the senator.
RCEF or not? On top of the issue of how funds were used, senators are also questioning whether the released funds are even part of the RCEF.
Senator Nancy Binay pointed out that the law had not yet been signed at the time the funds were released to the DA.
Budget Assistant Secretary Rolando Toledo implied that the money could be considered part of the RCEF.
Toledo promised Villar that the DBM will release another P4 billion in 2019 to complete the P10-billion allocation for the RCEF. – Rappler.com