(File photo)

MANILA – Davao City 1st District Representative Paolo Duterte and Benguet Rep. Eric Yap have filed twin measures that, once enacted into law, will mandate the government to purchase farm produce of local growers, and establish palay drying facilities nationwide to boost farmers’ income and help attain the country’s goal of achieving food security.

House Bill No. 3382 aims to ensure that the national and local governments will source food for their relief and school feeding programs from local farmers; while HB 3383 seeks to appropriate funds for the establishment nationwide of modern rice drying facilities that will be accessible to farmers for free.

In filing the complementing bills, Duterte and Yap said the measures support the government’s priority goals of revitalizing the country’s agriculture sector and fighting hunger, especially among school-age children.

“It is only fitting to put our farmers first when attending to our countrymen’s urgent need for subsistence as our farmers are considered as the nation’s first responders in fulfilling our food requirements," they said.

HB 3382 mandates national government agencies and the local government units (LGUs) to prioritize the purchase of produce from farmers in implementing their respective relief and school feeding programs.

“Prioritizing the purchase of local produce shall mean the exhaustion of all available and applicable local produce at the most reasonable and practicable cost before resorting to imported or foreign produce,” the bill read.

To lower transportation and hauling costs, the bill states that for LGUs, local farmers’ produce within their jurisdictions shall take precedence over other produce outside their respective territorial jurisdictions.

Duterte and Yap pointed out, however, that the proposed measure does not aim to derail fair competition in terms of foreign trade and importation, but to support the country’s producers.

HB 3382 makes it clear that the national government and LGUs should not buy produce that are no longer fit for human consumption, insufficient and inferior in quality, and more costly and impracticable compared to imported or foreign sources of produce.

In relation to this, HB 3383 mandates the establishment of rice drying systems throughout the country to ensure that the government, particularly the National Food Authority (NFA), buys farm produce at competitive prices.

Duterte and Yap noted that the NFA buys clean and dry palay with 14 percent moisture content at PHP19 per kilo, which small farmers can only offer if they have access to dryers.

“Because they lack these facilities, many farmers are left with no choice but to sell their palay at bargain basement prices to local traders for only PHP12 per kilo. The cheap price makes it difficult for farmers to recover their expenses,” they said.

Under their proposal, the NFA shall “procure, build, install, operate, manage, and/or maintain rice drying facilities sufficient in quantity and geographically accessible to local farmers to enable it to buy rice directly from local farmers.”

Farmers will be allowed to use these facilities for free if their produce will be sold directly to the NFA.

Under HB 3383, the initial amount needed to procure or establish the drying facilities shall be charged against the appropriations of the Department of Agriculture (DA), and/or sourced from the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and the Malampaya Funds.

Consequently, funds for the continued implementation of the rice drying facilities program shall be sourced from the DA’s annual appropriations under the national budget. (PNA)