DSWD to subsidize small-scale rice retailers affected by price cap

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 5) — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is set to subsidize small-scale rice retailers affected by the price cap.

Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said he was directed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to use the agency’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP).

The DSWD chief said the SLP currently has a ₱5.5-billion budget which can be immediately used to cushion the impact of the price cap among rice retailers with small inventory.

Gatchalian said in a radio interview that the DSWD aims to begin the release of the subsidy next week, pending the list of qualified small-scale rice retailers, which will be provided by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Agriculture.

He said qualified recipients of the financial aid could receive a maximum of ₱15,000.

“Bagamat kino-compute pa ng DTI at DA ang dapat matanggap ng bawat tatamaang rice retailers, ang maximum na ibinibigay ng programang SLP ay ₱15,000. One-time big-time,” the DSWD chief added.

[Translation: DTI and DA are still computing the amount to be received by the affected rice retailers. It will be a maximum of P15,000 under SLP. The total amount will only be given once.]

Retailers appealed to the government to defer the implementation of the rice price cap, saying they would suffer heavy losses because they would be required to sell at a lower price after Malacañang mandated a price ceiling for regular milled rice at ₱41.00 per kilo and for well-milled rice at ₱45.00 per kilo due to price spike.

Marcos on Monday acknowledged that the price ceiling would negatively impact retailers and traders. But instead of agreeing to suspend it, he ordered concerned government agencies to facilitate the immediate distribution of financial aid to retailers affected by the price cap.

House Speaker Martin Romualdez also vowed to raise another ₱2 billion to augment the SLP budget, according to Gatchalian. 

House Committee on Appropriations Chairperson Rep. Elizaldy Co, who was tasked by Romualdez to look for additional funds, said they are considering getting the budget from unprogrammed funds to augment DSWD's efforts.

"Ang priority muna ng ating pangulo ay ang NCR (National Capital Region) dahil ‘yun ang most affected," he said in an ambush interview on Tuesday. "‘Yung mga talagang small retailers, nasa sari-sari store, mga barangay, or nasa palengke na talagang hindi naman siya ‘yung bigtime. ‘Yung mga talagang affected lang, ‘yung mga mayayaman na kaya namang i-absorb, hindi na siya covered."

[Translation: The president's priorities are those from NCR who are the most affected. They are the small-scale retailers with sari-sari stores and selling in markets. We will prioritize those who are truly affected. The rich retailers will not be covered by the assistance because they can absorb the losses.]

Speaking to CNN Philippines’ The Source on Tuesday, Agri Party-list Rep. Wilbert Lee said the ₱2 billion assistance will be enough for now, but he emphasized this should be implemented very soon.

Hindi rin naman pwede itong patagalin because nalulugi nga ‘yung mga retailers…we have to balance everything,” he said, while also warning that if this will not be done immediately, some may opt to stop selling rice.

[Translation: This cannot be prolonged because retailers are losing money...we have to balance everything.]

Other forms of support

Marcos also directed the DTI to provide assistance to rice retailers and wholesalers, including small supermarkets, through loan programs, logistics support and market linkages.

The market linkages will connect local farmers with supermarket chains to promote bulk buying or advance purchase of supermarkets, restaurants, hotels, resorts, and other commercial establishments.

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The government will also provide transportation in delivering rice from traders to retailers to reduce logistical costs.