President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. should address food sufficiency and rising prices of basic commodities in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25, veteran lawmaker and economist Joey Salceda said Wednesday.
Salceda, who headed the House ways and means panel in the 18th Congress, made the call during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay Forum in Manila.
Salceda said Marcos’ commitment that the P20 per kilo price of rice is possible is a grand promise that must be addressed.
“Among presidential candidates, only President Marcos has set aspirational goals and grand national ambitions …P20 per kilo of rice as possible…it is an aspirational goal and very difficult to achieve, but this objective, coupled with the President’s decision to be Agriculture secretary, shows how seriously the new President treats food security issues,” Salceda said.
“He will likely focus on three key areas in agriculture: yield for main or staple crops, lower input costs, more direct delivery to end-users to reduce consumer prices of food and modernization of value chains and logistics for agriculture,” he added.
The lawmaker suggested that Marcos should task the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Science and Technology, Government Financial Institutions, Department of Information and Communications Technology, among other government agencies, to provide services at every stage of the agricultural value chain –post-harvest processing, packaging, cold storage, transport and marketing, including online.
“[This should be done] to boost agricultural production and sell to the consumer with minimal pass through or middleman costs,” Salceda said.
Likewise, Salceda said the President should mobilize the AFP Corps of Engineers to ease farm-to-market chokepoints, expedite the completion of ongoing farm to market roads and other value chain infrastructure, expand recruitment and deployment of irrigation development officers and other integrators of farm inputs, issue executive orders intensifying enforcement against price gouging, uncompetitive behavior, among others.
Salceda then stressed that there is a need to create new and stronger jobs, and train enough people to take those jobs to prevent inflation from getting worse.
“Up to 2.4 million jobs exist or can be potentially created if the skills required for them exist. On the other hand, most current jobs are low quality, causing high attrition rates and costs for the company, with implications for our competitiveness,” Salceda pointed out.
On top of jobs, Salceda said there is a need to provide an enabling environment for rapid economic growth and assuage investors, control the pandemic and ensure that the response is proportionate, commit to reducing debt to prevent higher interest payments from eating into the budget, among others.
Salceda said that the government should start with the service contracting scheme by paying companies and workers immediately; increasing supply of public utility vehicles (PUVs)by allowing reasonable fare and rationalizing the fare hike to be more realistic to the situation of the PUV drivers and operators.
The Albay lawmaker also said that COVID-19 restrictions on PUVs should be removed, while government offices must be mandated to identify positions where WFH can be allowed one to two times per week.
Salceda encouraged provision of financial incentives for carpooling such as fuel allowance, edible gardening to reduce dependency on food imports, improving yields via issuance of fertilizer discount coupons, promote fortification among bread producers and other producers of basic food items and maximize platforms for farmers to directly sell food produce to consumers, to reduce attendant price increases due to middlemen.
Salceda then listed the proposed legislations that will help achieve these goals:
Joint Resolution on Medium Term Fiscal Plan Joint Resolution on ‘Build Build More’ infrastructure program Bayan Bangon Muli bill with special powers against inflation Fuel and electricity price unbundling bill Automatic earmarking of fuel tax windfall revenues to targeted aid Corrected Bulacan Ecozone bill Public Private Partnership Act Digital economy Value Added Tax Act and Ease of Paying Taxes
“I already asked incoming Speaker Martin Romualdez to immediately constitute the Committee on Rules and Commission on Appointments to allow members of Cabinet to be confirmed and to begin work immediately,” Salceda said.
“We need to emphasize the government’s role as an agent of positive change and articulate grand national ambitions,” Salceda added.–LDF, GMA News