The Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) decried the exclusion of farmer representatives in the Program Steering Committee (PSC) of the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF). The RCEF, which amounts to P10 billion per year for the next six years, is intended to help rice farmers cope with the liberalization of the rice market following the enactment of the Rice Tariffication Law and the recent finalization of the law’s Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). Under the Rule 13.11 of the IRR, the PSC will “oversee and provide policy directions on the implementation of the programs funded by the Rice Fund, in accordance with the Philippine Industry Road Map.”

Raul Montemayor, National Manager of the Federation of Free Farmers (FFF) and Chairman of the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) Food Staples Committee, noted that the inclusion of PCAF representatives in the PSC was incorporated in the original drafts of the IRR. “Nobody raised any objections to this proposal in the public consultations on the IRR. Government representatives who attended the consultations and drafting meetings did not express any reservations about farmer representatives in the PSC. So, we are both surprised and disappointed that this provision suddenly disappeared in the final version of the IRR.”, explained Montemayor.

Montemayor added that it was very ironic that Rule 15.2 of the same IRR stipulated that the Rice Road Map should “include the participatory structure, mechanisms, modalities . . . for farmers to actively and meaningfully engage in the implementation of the [rice tariffication] Act”. He added that the proposal to include farmer representatives in the PSC was intended to avoid a repeat of the experience with the Agricultural Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ACEF) where huge blocks of funds were cornered by relatively large business enterprises.

The PCAF is a network of national, regional, provincial and municipal agriculture and fishery councils where private stakeholders regularly dialogue and interact with the DA and other government agencies in the monitoring and evaluation of programs for farmers. Montemayor argued that the PCAF, which operates under the DA structure, would have been the ideal vehicle for farmers to consolidate and relay their feedback on RCEF implementation to the steering committee. “I simply cannot understand why the government does not want farmers in the PSC when we could contribute so much to the proper implementation of the RCEF. Farmers are not only beneficiaries of the fund, but should also be recognized as valuable partners of government in achieving food security and agricultural development.”, said Montemayor.

Montemayor also lamented the absence of clear provisions in the IRR which would ensure that rice farmers would have continued access to the P1 billion annual allocation for credit under the RCEF. “During the public consultations, we pointed out that the wording of the rice tariffication law could be interpreted to mean that any collection of loans from farmers under RCEF will revert to the government’s general fund and will not go back to RCEF for further relending to farmers. NEDA representatives in the consultations promised to flag this concern, but nothing came out of it in the IRR. How can farmers with very limited capital improve their productivity and become competitive if they can borrow for only one cropping season?”, asked Montemayor.

“It now seems clear that the public consultations on the IRR were a mere charade and farmers were just taken for a ride. Government officials made a lot of promises and assurances, but in the end, nothing clear and definite came out in the implementing rules”, lamented Montemayor.