MALACAÑANG yesterday vowed transparency in the use of the P10-billion Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) as safeguard against corruption.
“Good governance is the hallmark of the Duterte administration and the President has zero tolerance for corruption and wastage of taxpayers’ money. We continue to exercise accountability and transparency in all levels of the bureaucracy,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said.
Signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on February 14, Republic Act 11203 or the Rice Tariffication Act lifts the quantitative restrictions on rice and allows private traders to import the commodity from countries of their choice.
The measure allows unlimited importation of rice as long as private sector traders secure a phytosanitary permit from the Bureau of Plant Industry and pay the 35-percent tariff on shipments from Southeast Asia.
The law earmarks P10 billion for the RCEF, of which P5 billion will be allotted to farm mechanization, P3 billion to seedlings and P1 billion to expanded rice credit assistance.
The fund intends to ensure that rice imports won’t drown out the agriculture sector and rob farmers of their livelihood.
Panelo said the Secretary of Agriculture would be accountable and responsible for the Rice Fund.
He also said the Department of Agriculture, in consultation with farmers’ cooperatives and organizations as well as local government units, will validate and update the masterlist of eligible beneficiaries, which include farmers, farmworkers, rice cooperatives and associations.
The Congressional Oversight Committee on Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization (COCAFM) shall also conduct a periodic review of the Rice Fund.
Panelo urged rice farmer representatives and stakeholders to participate in the discussion and review of the crafting of the Rice Industry Roadmap and Internal Rules and Regulations with other concerned government agencies to ensure the effective and efficient implementation of the new measure, including assuring that safeguards aimed at eliminating corruption are in place.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez on Tuesday said cheaper rice would be available on the market starting mid-March or by the time imported rice starts arriving in the country.
Lopez said the price of imported rice could be as low as P32 per kilo.
The Department of Finance announced on Monday that tariffed regime on rice imports will begin on March 3 as well as the transfer of the National Food Authority (NFA) to the Department of Agriculture (DA).