DA circular sets out guidelines on cash aid to farmers

Philippine rice farmers who have not received any financial aid from the government will be given priority in the next tranches of cash assistance, the Department of Agriculture (DA) assured on Monday.

The DA has issued Memorandum Circular (MC) 30 which outlines guidelines for the distribution of Financial Assistance to Rice Farmers (RFFA) for fiscal years 2022 to 2024.

In particular, the MC clarified the rules for prioritizing farmers receiving cash assistance under the RFFA in accordance with Republic Act 11598 or the Philippine Farmer Cash Assistance Act.

“The criteria for prioritization of beneficiary farmers are presented by level taking into account the following elements: receipt of cash assistance from the DA, registration in the RSBSA [Registry System for the Basic Sectors in Agriculture]and rice area cultivated,” the document reads.

Rice farmers classified as Tier 1 or those who have not yet received cash assistance from DA programs such as RFFA 2019, Financial Grant for Rice Farmers 2020 and Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund-RFFA will be given priority.

This is followed by Tier 2 rice farmers or those who have received cash assistance once, with rice farmers who have received cash assistance twice already being classified as Tier 3, according to the document.

Regardless of the level, beneficiary rice farmers must be registered with the government’s RSBSA and must cultivate rice fields of 2 hectares and less, the DA said.

The government, through the DA, has provided cash financial assistance to rice farmers using the more than 10 billion pesos tariffs collected on rice imports since 2019.

Under Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Trade Liberalization Act, rice tariffs collected in excess of P10 billion could be used for financial assistance, among other possible options.

But last year, Duterte signed RA 11598 which required that all rice tariffs exceeding 10 billion pesos be used only for financial assistance to farmers cultivating 2 hectares and less until 2024.

“Government recognizes the urgency to help farmers given the drop in palay prices and the crippling effect of the Covid-19 pandemic,” read MC 30.

“As such, it will provide monetary assistance to the hardest hit segments of the country’s smallholder farmers in the form of cash grants to farmers,” the MC 30 added.

Since the promulgation of RA 11203, government tariff collections on rice have steadily increased.

In 2019, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) certified an excess customs duty collection on rice of about 2.135 billion pesos, which increased to 5.5 billion pesos in 2020. Last year, the BOC collected a total of 18.9 billion in rice tariffs, which meant that tariff collections of 8.9 billion pesos would go to the financial aid program for rice farmers.

RA 11598 has streamlined the transfer of funds from the RFFA since the BOC automatically transfers excess rice customs duty collections to the DA, removing the usual budgetary procedures such as General Appropriations Act legislation.

Earlier this year, the DA pledged to complete the distribution of the 2019-2020 financial assistance package to rice farmers by the end of January.

Assistant Agriculture Secretary Arnel V. de Mesa said almost half of the targeted 1.497 million rice farmers have already received their P5,000 cash assistance from the RFFA scheme.

De Mesa explained that out of the 1.497 million target beneficiaries, some 867,063 rice farmers already have an e-wallet, out of which 745,946 rice farmers have already received their cash assistance of P5,000. He added that 188,956 rice farmers received their intervention follow-up card (CIM).

“Before the end of January 31, we will be able to distribute the entire [P7.6 billion RFFA]“, he said during a virtual press briefing in mid-January.

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