Escudero to DBM: keep your hands off rice subsidy budget

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/17 September)—Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero on Friday warned the Department of Budget and Management not to “trifle around” with the rice subsidy budget as doing so could result to majority of the country’s farmers going hungry.

“I take particular issue on that decision by the DBM na sa tingin ko, mali (that I think is wrong),” Escudero said in a visit here, referring to the scrapping of the rice subsidy budget for the National Food Authority (NFA) in the next year’s budget.

“They ‘zeroed’ the allocation for the NFA and transferred the P8 billion to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) for the distribution of free rice to the poor,” he said.

“I don’t think the DBM on its own, moto propio and unilaterally, can decide for and in behalf of Congress what laws shall be funded and not funded and what law can be repealed simply by giving it zero allocation,” Escudero said.

He said the NFA has been mandated not only to sell cheap rice to the Filipino farmers but also to sell cheap seedlings and provide other support services to encourage farmers to plant.

He also said the removal of the P8-billion rice subsidy in the budget of the NFA next year is a “slap” and an “insult” to Filipino farmers. He recalled telling the DSWD during the budget deliberation that the removal of the rice subsidy might result to most of the Filipino farmers going hungry but he had been told, instead, that once the farmers go hungry, they (the farmers) can already “qualify for the free rice distribution program of the DSWD.”

Di ba insulto iyan sa (Isn’t that an insult to) Filipino farmers?” he asked. “Bigyan sila ng imported na bigas para kanin niya dahil di nabigyan ng magsasaka ng sapat na tulong para kumita sila? Hindi naman tama iyon (They’ll be given imported rice for their consumption because the government cannot help them make money out of rice farming, I don’t think it’s right).”

He also said that a zero allocation for rice subsidy will also prevent the President from realigning some amount for it later.

“Once you allocate zero amount in the budget of an agency, the President could no longer realign or supplement that budget of that agency,” he said. “What if somewhere along the way, they will discover that DBM is wrong? When they need to allocate funds for the NFA, they could no longer do it because they have given it a zero allocation in the national budget. Sana, lagyan man lang nila ng piso, dahil kung zero iyon (They could have allotted even a peso in that budget, because otherwise), the President even if he wants to could no longer realign money for the NFA.”

He said he could not understand why the government is willing to shell out some P20,000 a year as subsidy for each MRT or LRT user a year in Metro Manila but is scrimping hard on subsidies for poor Filipino farmers. DSWD, the luckiest agency under the Aquino government, is enjoying a 120-percent increase in its budget from the previous year to P120 billion.

“Rice is our basic staple food and I don’t think the DBM should trifle around with this commodity,” he said, adding, “I don’t think they should take it lightly, I don’t think they should ignore it. I don’t think they should have second thoughts funding it if it is necessary.”

He warned all revolutions around the world started when people went hungry. (Germelina Lacorte/MindaNews)