AN agricultural group on Saturday blamed the Department of Agriculture (DA) for the delay in the disbursement of the P5,000-financial subsidy to rice farmers under the Rice Farmers Financial Assistance program.

In a radio interview, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) President Rosendo So said no funds were released a month after President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. approved the P8.04 billion aid to 1.59 million farmers.

"When we went to Malacañang, we mentioned to the President the issue of P5,000 financial support to farmers. Right then and there, the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) released the P8.04 billion funding for 1.59 million farmers," So said.

So added that the money came from the P9-billion collected tax last year under the Rice Tariffication Law.

When informed of the unreleased subsidy, the Land Bank of the Philippines told So that it was still waiting for the required farmers' identification card to be issued by the DA.

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"Based on the explanation of the LandBank, the IT system tapped by the DA bogged down. The LandBank has its own ID system, but the DA insisted on providing the requirement," So said.

So added that it should be the concerned municipalities that should provide the list of farmers covered by the program.

"The DA should allow the municipalities to provide the list since the local government units are more familiar with the farmers in their respective areas," he said, adding that not all qualified farmers will receive the aid.

"The DA selected the beneficiaries, but not all farmers can avail of the program though it's mandated under the law that farmers owning half hectare to 2 hectares are covered by the P5,000 cash support."

So stressed that the subsidy is crucial for the farmers to resume planting.

"Farmers suffer from the high production costs, and they are forced to resort to loan sharks. This should not be the case since the funding is there," he said.

On Friday, Sinag Executive Director Jayson Cainglet warned that the retail price of rice could increase from the current P38 to P39 per kilo to P43 to P44 per kilo in October.

Cainglet said that besides the unreleased P5,000 cash aid, farmers have yet to receive the P3,000 fuel subsidy they were entitled to under DA Memorandum Circular 7, plus the P1,000 to P2,000 fertilizer discount voucher under DA Memorandum Order 22.

DA Undersecretary Kristine Evangelista did not respond when asked by The Manila Times to comment on the issue.

Some good news for farmers

Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella reported that Marcos has ordered the Land Bank of the Philippines to expedite the loan application process of farmers.

"Because of our pleas with regards to the loan applications of our agrarian reform beneficiaries, they have reduced it from 11 pages to only one-page loan application," Estrella said.

Estrella added that LandBank has also assigned personnel to assist farmers applying for loans.

"We are thankful to the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry); they are helping us with market assistance in capacity development and in market skills," he said.

Estrella also said that during a recent Cabinet meeting, Department of Health Officer in Charge Maria Rosario Vergeire and DBM Secretary Amenah Pangandaman have agreed to make agrarian reform beneficiaries eligible to medical assistance for indigent patients.

"Starting next year, the farmers will be covered in the medical assistance program. It will lessen their concerns," he added.

Estrella said Marcos also approved to include children of agrarian reform beneficiaries in the scholarship grant under the Unified Student Financial Assistance System for Tertiary Education being offered by the Commission on Higher Education.

"We intend to have self-sufficient agrarian reform beneficiaries. Our target at the end of six years, at least 80 percent or 743,800 agrarian reform beneficiaries are empowered with enhanced productivity and family income and become economically independent and team players in the economy," Estrella said.