Senator Cynthia Villar (2nd from right) and DA Secretary William Dar (2nd from left) lead the ceremonial awarding of certificates for recipients of credit under the RCEF with Landbank of the Philippines President Cecilia Borromeo (left) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) Secretary Isidro Lapeña (right).

As part of the Department of Agriculture (DA) family, the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (DA-ACPC), was one with the DA in celebrating the first anniversary of the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), held in the Urdaneta Cultural Center, Pangasinan on March 5, 2020.

“The Rice Tariffication Law is one of the best reforms that has happened in the history of agriculture in this country,” said DA Secretary William D. Dar during his message, explaining how one year of implementation of the RTL has greatly improved the sector’s efforts to attain food security and self-sufficiency. “We need rice that is available and affordable for all Filipinos. Ngayon, malaki na ang pagbaba ng presyo ng bigas sa mga merkado.”

Earlier in the program, National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Assistant Secretary Mercedita Sombilla, on behalf of Secretary Ernesto Pernia, had reported that the average retail price of regular milled rice (RMR) has recently gone down to Php 36.74 per kilo, compared to an average of Php 42.32 per kilo prior to the full implementation of the RTL in March 2019.

RA 11203, or the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL), was first signed into law in February 2019, creating the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), an annual Php 10 billion fund with four main component programs aimed at improving the productivity and competitiveness of Filipino rice farmers—namely, seed, mechanization, extension services and credit programs.

“Napakaganda ng ating mga programa para sa mga magsasaka,” said Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, during her keynote speech. “Kaya mayroong RTL at RCEF, dahil gusto natin na maging competitive ang aming rice farmers in terms of quality and cost of production.”

With the theme, “Sa Rice Tariffication Law, lahat tayo panalo!” the celebration highlighted the accomplishments of each RCEF program implementing agency, including the Philippine Center for Postharvest Development and Mechanization (PhilMech) for mechanization; Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) for seeds distribution; Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for extension and training services; and the DA-ACPC’s partner government banks, Land Bank of the Philippines (LBP) and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) for credit.

Senator Cynthia Villar and DA Secretary William Dar address rice farmers of Pangasinan during the celebration of the First Anniversary of the Rice Tariffication Law held on March 5, 2020.

The Expanded Rice Credit Assistance under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (ERCA-RCEF) is the credit program for rice farmers implemented by the LBP and the DBP. Under this program, the LBP reported a total of Php 481.34 in loans released to 2,679 small farmers as of February 29, 2020.

The LBP is also the DA-ACPC’s partner lending conduit for the Expanded Survival and Recovery Assistance Program for Rice Farmers (SURE Aid), a targeted credit program for eligible rice farmers, as identified by the DA Regional Field Offices (DA RFOs), whose incomes were affected by low farmgate prices of palay last year. LBP President Cecilia Borromeo reported a total of Php 2.48 billion in zero-interest loans distributed to 163,827 farmers under the SURE Aid Program.

“Isang karangalan na maging katuwang ng gobyerno para matulungan at matugunan ang pangangailangan ng mga magsasaka,” said President Borromeo in her speech.

For the DBP’s ERCA-RCEF program, Isabela-based NMI Agri Coop President Ana Cristina S. Go shared that through their working capital loan granted in 2019, their cooperative was able to purchase the palay of more than 2,500 of their members at prices higher than the farmgate price, which had dropped at the time due to calamities in the province. The DBP has currently released Php 283 million of the approved Php 500 million loan to NMI Agri Coop.

The DBP is also the DA-ACPC’s partner lending conduit for the BuyANIhan program, which provides a working capital loan for farmers’ cooperatives or associations to buy palay directly from farmers, and process and market the rice to institutional buyers. In 2019, the DBP approved a Php 200 million loan for the Ilocos-based Nueva Segovia Consortium of Cooperatives’ (NSCC) palay buying and marketing project in partnership with its 200 primary cooperatives.

“The DBP commits to supporting the Department of Agriculture and RCEF-implementing agencies, as we promote the welfare and increase the competitiveness of our rice farmers,” said DBP President Emmanuel Herbosa in his video message.

Other highlights of the event included testimonials from beneficiaries of the various RCEF programs, and the ceremonial awarding of certificates to recipients of machines, seeds, credit and training and scholarship under the RCEF programs.

The event was attended by around 1,400 rice farmers from the region, Senator Cynthia Villar, DA Secretary William Dar, Pangasinan Governor Amado Espino III, Urdaneta Mayor Julio Parayno III, and officials and staff from the RCEF implementing agencies, including TESDA Secretary Isidro Lapeña, PhilMech Executive Director Baldwin Jallorina, PhilRice Executive Director John de Leon, LBP President Cecilia C. Borromeo, DBP Senior Vice President Paul Lazaro, ATI Director Alfredo Aton, NEDA Assistant Secretary Mercedita A. Sombilla, Department of Finance (DOF) Executive Assistant Renzo Enrico Blanco, and DA-ACPC Executive Director Jocelyn Alma R. Badiola.

Senator Cynthia Villar and DA Secretary William Dar with the RCEF implementing agencies’ heads and representatives during the ceremonial awarding of certificates to beneficiaries of machines, seeds, credit and training programs under the RCEF.