VIRAC, CATANDUANES — “Talagang dapat mapakusog an sektor nin rice farmers tanganing maging supisyente an satuyang bagas sa satuyang isla. Kaipuhan an tabang kan mga paraoma ta dyan nakasirkulo an satuyang mga pagkonsumo pag-abot sa food security, nakasalalay tabi an gabos na kahimanwa sa saindong kamot lalo na sa mga rice farmers, ta yan an mayormente tang pigakaon baga–mga rice-eaters kita.” This was underscored by Catanduanes Governor Joseph C. Cua during the launch of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Rice Farmers Financial Assistance (RFFA) program held at the Catanduanes State University Gymnasium in Virac, this province on January 12, 2022.

About 1,100 smallholder rice farmers from San Andres and Virac, Catanduanes received direct cash assistance worth P5,000 from the DA Regional Field Office V during the launch. A total of 5,605 rice farmers in the island who are registered and validated in the updated Registry System for Basic Sectors in Agriculture (RSBSA) and have two-hectares and below farm area will benefit from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement (RCEF)-RFFA program. The program aims to provide cash grants to eligible rice farmers to compensate for their income losses due to the decline in palay prices. It is also designed to facilitate their access to timely funds for procurement of needed inputs as well as develop opportunities for them to boost their productivity and profitability.

The DA Regional Field Office (RFO) V partnered with the Development Bank of the Philippines as conduit bank and the Universal Storefront Services Corp. (USSC) as service provider in facilitating the cash aid payment and issuance of rice farmers’ RSBSA-Interventions Monitoring Card (IMC). According to DA RFO V Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division (AMAD) Chief Adelina A. Losa, the IMC will also serve as their identification and cash cards for this program and for future interventions from the DA.

Provincial Agriculturist Nelia B. Teves echoed the local chief executive’s vision to increase the province’s rice self sufficiency level saying “We have to increase the production per unit area, hindi ‘yung production increase through expansion ng area kasi wala po tayong area na iex-expand for rice production but increase production per unit area per hectare. Nagpapasalamat po kami sa Department of Agriculture through our Honorable Secretary William Dar, sa ating Regional Executive Director kay Sir Rodel Tornilla at sa mga kinatawan po ng Department of Agriculture Region V for the efforts and support to our rice farmers in Catanduanes upang matugunan po ang kanilang mga pangangailangan lalung-lalo na po sa ngayon na pandemya na kulang po ang kanilang income. Sa ngayon po lalung-lalo na po sa inputs, halos dumoble po ang presyo ng bawat sako ng fertilizer and ito po na ibinibigay nila na P5,000 cash assistance will really help the rice farmers to improve or sustain the rice production para po magkaroon tayo ng food security in the province of Catanduanes.”

In her message, DA RFO V Regional Technical Director for Operations Luz R. Marcelino mentioned that on December 10, 2021, Republic Act 11598 or Cash Assistance to Filipino Farmers Act was signed into law. This authorizes the DA to give cash assistance to rice farmers tilling two hectares of land and below until 2024 with funds coming from the annual tariff revenues in excess of P10 billion under the RCEF. She added that RFFA funds were sourced from the P7.6 billion excess tariffs collected from the yearly P10 billion fund allotted for the RCEF program institutionalized under Republic Act 11203 otherwise known as the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).

“Talaga pong hinihiling po kan gobyerno kung paano matabangan ang mga paraoma. Through the Rice Competitive Enhancement Fund kan Department of Agriculture, ibinaba po samo ang pondo para po maitao sa mga paraoma,” she said.

Rice farmer Alma M. Boco of Brgy. Carangag San Andres, Catanduanes related that the release of the P5,000 cash aid is timely as she just started planting and basal application on December 28, 2021.

“Malaking tulong sa amin itong P5,000 kasi isang beses pa lang kami naglagay ng abono. Makakabili na kami ng dalawang cavan na abono, tapos ‘yung iba insecticide… Nagtanim na kami ng palay ngayon kulang na lang kami sa abono… Problema po kasi namin ‘yung pagtaas ng price ng abono kasi nahihirapan kaming mag-avail ng ganyan na price. Dati kasi ang ammonium P700, ngayon po P1,400, ang Complete po nasa P2,000 tapos ang urea nasa P2,600 papaano namin masusunod ang paglagay ng kumpletong abono na ganyan ang price? Ngayon may panggastos na kami. Kung masusunod namin yung pasistema kung paano mag-abono, lalaki ang aming kita kasi kung mahal, tinitipid namin. Nagpapasalamat ako sa Department of Agriculture sa pagbigay ng P5,000 karagdagan na pang-abono namin para makaasenso din ang pagbuhay namin kasi ‘yun lang ang inaasahan namin na pagbuhay—ang pagtatanim,” she said.

According to Cua, the island is highly dependent on mainland Camarines Sur in terms of rice supply. Data from the Provincial Local Government Unit and DA Regional Field Office V Rice Program shows that Catanduanes only has 5,441.30 hectares of rice area while its population is now at 271, 879.

RFFA payout funded by the 2019-2020 excess rice tariffs will continue in Catanduanes until January 17, 2022. In Bicol, a total of 111,880 qualified rice farmers will receive the P5,000 cash assistance. The same activity is ongoing in Camarines Norte and Sorsogon while release of the said cash grants in other provinces is scheduled until end of January 2022.

CSU President Dr. Patrick Alain T. Azanza, Provincial Board Member Lorenzo T. Templonuevo Jr., Regional Rice and Corn Program Coordinator Earl Vincent P. Vegas and Regional RSBSA Focal Person Bjorn Borris D. De los Santos also attended the RFFA launch. COVID-19 safety protocols were strictly followed during the activity. In accordance with Alert level 3 restrictions in Albay and Camarines Sur and President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s recent order to restrain unvaccinated individuals’ movement, vaccinated beneficiaries will be prioritized during the release of the RFFA cash aid. (Annielyn L. Baleza, DA RAFIS V)