By SHERWIN DE VERA
BAGUIO CITY — “Another milking cow for bureaucrats and politicians.”
This is how the Solidarity of Peasants Against Exploitation (Stop Exploitation) sees the Rice Competitiveness and Enhancement Fund mandated under the newly signed Rice Tariffication Law.
“Numanpay nagduma ti galad, saan nga adayo a maiparis manen daytoy a pondo iti pasamak ti bingay dagiti lokal a gobierno iti excise tax ti tabako (Though different in nature, it is nor far-fetched this fund will suffer the same faith as the local government share from the tobacco excise tax),” said Antonino Pugyao, Stop Exploitation chairman.
The peasant leader cited the experience of tobacco farmers who were promised of benefits from Republic Acts 7171 and 8240, “ngem inggana itatta ket agtaltalinaed a narigat ken mailumlumlom ti utang (yet they remain poor and buried in debt).”
“Adadu a parte ti pondo ket napan iti bulsa, inaramat dagiti politiko para iti panangipataginayon ti turayda ken dagiti proyekto a nakasilpo ti interes ti negosio dagiti politiko (Signifant portion of the fund went to the pockets and used to ensure political power and implement projects that benefit the interest of politicians),” he added.
RAs 7171 and 8240 mandates that 15% of the collected tobacco excise tax be given to the provinces producing the crop. The former is for products from Virginia-type tobacco and the latter from Burley and Native types.
Competetiveness fund useless
Pugyao also pointed out that throughout the year since the country’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), ear-marked funds related to agriculture failed to develop the productivity and competitiveness.
“Kaspangarigan koma ket diay agriculture competitiveness fund, iti nasurok dua dekada nga kaaddana, saan met pulos a narikna ti mannalon ti serbina tapno isalbarkami iti pannakalugi gapu iti panaglayos ti imported a produkto nga agrikultura (An example is the agriculture competetiveness fund that is in placed for more than two decades failed to save farmers from bankruptcy because of imported agriculture products),” he explained.
In 1996, the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) was put up under Republic Act No. 8178, or the Agricultural Tariffication Act. The fund was intended for production assistance, support facilities , research and development, and other services to the agriculture sector. The programs and projects were to provide protection and cushion to farmers from the impact of trade liberalization.
ACEF accumulated to as much as P13 billion in 2013 but its utilization was riddled with anomalies.
Earlier, the group said the removal of the quantitative restriction on rice imports have a comparable impact with the policy that resulted in the decline of the local garlic industry.
Meanwhile, Rice watch group Bantay Bigas and the National Federation of Peasant women expressed the same belief.
The group said RCEF is “nothing but another source of plunder for government officials of the Duterte administration.”
“The RCEF is expected to be the same, with the Rice Tariffication Law,” Cathy Estavillo of Bantay Bigas and Amihan Secretary-General said.
She mentioned that despite the fund and government promotion of liberalization in the agriculture, the sector only grew by an average 1.5% from 1998 to 2001, and in 2001 to 2010, only by 3%.
“Obviously, not in the range of being competitive with other countries,” she added.
Estavilla also said RCEF is a tiny 2.8% of the total value of palay, “to declare it as it would trigger competitiveness is farcical.”
Value of palay production in 2017 reached to P350 billion.
She also slammed the P1-billion fund of RCEF allotted for credit for farmers.
“The fund could only serve 12,000 to 20,000 hectares, which is an insignificant 0.3% to 0.6% of the total 3.5 million hectares of rice lands in the country, ” she explained.
Government averaged the cost of palay production at P50,000 per hectare in 2017, while based on an Amihan case study in Nueva Ecija last year, it reached to P80,000 per hectare.
Under the Rice Tariffication Law, composing the P10 billion are: P5 billion or 50 percent to Philmec for the purchase of farm equipment; P3 billion or 30 percent to the PhilRice, P1 billion or 10 percent to the Agricultural Training Institute (ATI)/Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and the P1 billion or 10 percent to the Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for loans. # nordis.net