By Christine F. Herrera, Joyce Pangco Pañares | Manila Standard
ALARMED by an economic crisis with a 27 percent poverty rate and the country becoming the largest importer of rice in the world, Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday expressed concern that there appears to be no overall master plan for the last two years of the Aquino administration.
The President, Marcos said, should have set the direction during his recent State of the Nation Address that would define the government’s policies and programs in the next two years to enable the government to cushion the adverse impact of the economic crisis.
“The people were waiting during the SONA what to expect in the next two years. We were waiting like, let’s see what we can move forward on and that’s what everybody I think was hoping for during the SONA. What are the new programs because usually, the President with two years remaining would say ‘Okay, last two minutes so this is what we should do. We will make full use of the time.’ So we were waiting for those programs and policies for the remainder of his term,” Marcos said.
“There was none,” the senator added.
But Marcos said he was still hopeful that the Palace would come up with the plans.
Malacañang, however, belied Marcos’ claim that the government had no overall plan.
“The Aquino administration is guided by a master plan, the Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016 and according to the updated results matrix, the country is poised to attain six out of nine macroeconomic targets including GDP growth, investment growth and employment rate. All of the reputable global rating agencies have uniformly recognized the Philippines’ stellar performance as “Asia’s emergent tiger economy,” said communications secretary Herminio “Sonny Coloma.
“The reduction in poverty rate from 27 to 24 per cent may be attributed to the beneficial results of the highly focused conditional cash transfer (CCT) program.
“In 2013, the country attained 96 per cent rice self-sufficiency. The decision to authorize the NFA to import additional quantities is a short-term strategy to neutralize hoarding and price manipulation.
Coloma also said the criticism against the administration “was based on a totally different paradigm of economic analysis that must be credibly justified as it contradicts the globally-held view commending the upward trend of Philippine economic performance.”
Marcos, however, said that the 27 percent poverty rate came from the NEDA and urged the agency to explain why Aquino said in his SONA that the poverty incidence has gone down from 27.9 percent to 24.9 percent, instead of declaring the truth that the country is now in a state of economic crisis.
In his SONA speech, Aquino cited data from the NEDA showing a decrease in poverty incidence from 27.9 percent during the first semester of 2012 to 24.9 percent during the same period in 2013.
The President said the three-percentage point decrease translates into 2.5 million Filipinos who have moved up from the poverty line.
“Namumuhunan po tayo sa pinakamahalagang yaman ng bansa: ang taumbayan. Pinapatunayan ito ng datos ng NEDA. Ayon sa kanila, ang 27.9 percent na poverty incidence natin sa unang semester ng 2012, bumaba patungong 24.9 percent sa kaparehong panahon noong 2013,” the President said.
“Ang 3-percentage points pong ito ay katumbas ng halos 2.5 milyong Pilipinong naka-alpas na sa poverty line. Totoo namang dapat pagtuunan ng masusing pansin ang pinakamahirap sa lipunan. Pero hindi tayo titigil diyan: Ngayong nadagdagan ang kakayahan natin, sinisikap nating hindi na manumbalik sa ilalim ng poverty line ang lahat ng nakaalpas,” the President boasted during the SONA.
(We are investing on the most significant wealth of our country: our people. This has been proven by data from NEDA. According to the NEDA, the 27.9 percent poverty incidence in the first semester has gone down to 24.9 percent in the same period in 2013,” the President said.
“The 3-percentage point is equivalent to almost 2.4 million Filipinos who have surpassed the poverty line. It is true that we have to focus on the poorest in our society. But we will not stop there.
Now that we have proven our capability, we are working hard to not allow our people from going back below the poverty line”).
Marcos, however, said that “even at 24.9 percent, we are already in a financial crisis.”
“We also have unemployment rate to contend with, not just poverty and high prices of basic commodities,” added Marcos, a member of the Nacionalista Party and chairman of the Senate committees on public works and local governments.
According to the senator, the SWS June survey showed that the number of Filipinos who considered themselves “poor” rose two percent from 53 percent or 11.5 million families in March to 55 percent or 12.1 million families in June.
SWS said the two-percent spike translated into close to 600,000 more families who considered them poor.
As for the rice crisis, Marcos said “the Philippines is the largest importer of rice in the world, easing out even Indonesia and Bangladesh,” based on figures released by the Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA.
Based on USDA statistics, the Philippines was declared No. 1 importer of rice in 2008. The Philippines was delisted in 2010 under the leadership of National Food Authority Administrator Angelito Banayo, who chose to allow importers to procure rice, instead of government spending taxpayers’ money.
But the importation through government-to-government contract, mostly from Vietnam was revived by the NFA under Administrator Orlan Calayag in 2012.
Calayag and DA Secretary Proceso Alcala, who also sits as NFA Council chairman, imported a total of 1.3 million metric tons in 2012, some 750,000 metric tons in 2013 and additional 800,000 metric tons in 2013, making the importation of the Aquino government a “record high” at 2.6 million metric tons.
Marcos took to task the country’s economic managers and the DA to explain why instead of attaining rice self-sufficiency, the President announced during the SONA the importation of 500,000 metric tons of rice as standby stocks.
The President said he had ordered the importation of 500,000 metric tons of rice to flood the market and force the “hoarders” to bring out the goods.
“Noong Nobyembre ng nakaraang taon, nagsimula na tayong mag-import ng 500,000 metriko tonelada para magsilbing ayuda sa supply na pinanipis ng nagdaang mga bagyo, at dumating na lahat ito noong Marso. Nito ding Pebrero, inaprubahan ng NFA Council ang pag-angkat natin ng karagdagang 800,000 metriko tonelada bilang pagpuno sa ating buffer stocking requirement, at 360,750 metriko tonelada na nito ang dumating ngayong Hulyo; pagdating ng Setyembre, makakarating na ang kabuuan. Naaprubahan na rin ngayong Hulyo ang agarang importasyon ng 500,000 metriko tonelada ng bigas sa pamamagitan ng open bidding. May standby authority rin ang NFA na mag-angkat ng karagdagan pang 500,000 metriko tonelada, bilang paghahanda sa magiging epekto ng kalamidad sa ani at sa presyo ng bigas,” Aquino said.
But Marcos said that the President’s “standby authority” for some 500,000 metric tons to serve as buffer stocks would not free the Philippines from being the No. 1 rice importer.
Marcos also urged the government to come up with a national infrastructure development plan that would set directions to where “public investment” must concentrate.
He said Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson admitted during a hearing of his panel that there was a comprehensive plan for flood and water control and irrigation projects but there is “no comprehensive infrastructure development plan” for the next two years.
For this reason, Marcos said his panel was already going around the country hearing the sentiments of the local government units and finding out their parochial concerns that could be integrated into the whole picture.
The President had said the government has allocated more than double for infrastructure projects from P200.3 billion in 2011 to some P404.3 billion in 2014.
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said for 2015, the national government allocated some P600 billion for infrastructure projects alone.