Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda said the country now urgently needs inflation countermeasures to keep prices down and provide the necessary safety nets to at-risk households. The lawmaker, a noted economist, is the House focal person on inflation and fiscal policies.
Inflation which hit 6.4% in August, has seriously affected the prices of food and other basic commodities. Bicol, Salceda’s own region, recorded the highest inflation at 9% in the country. He said this is alarming for Bicolanos since their region is the fourth poorest in the country. Price spikes in Bicol were noted in vegetables, with 27%; fish, 20%; corn, 17.7%; and rice, 12.5%.
He called the 9% inflation that hit Bicol as “existential threat to development since it would increase the number of poor people and worsen hunger, thus causing higher malnutrition, which in turn results in higher stunting rate that deprives our youth of their physical and mental potentials.”
He noted that due to its weight in the consumption mix, rice remains the driver of Bicol’s inflation and the National Food Administration (NFA) should release more cheap imported rice, and during the harvest season starting October, should intensify local palay purchase to protect rice farmers. Salceda also recommended that the Department of Energy (DOE) should issue fuel vouchers for small fishermen, not just the transport sector, to subsidize fishing activities and increase catch.
The Bureau of Plant Industry of the Department of Agriculture, he said should provide also free vegetable seeds, especially short-gestation crops, to support an intensified backyard and household vegetable growing. The Department of Education (DepEd), he added, should mandate gardening in all schools, while Barangays and Sangguniang Barangays should intensify the ‘Gulayan sa Barangay’ program.
The lawmaker said Bicol should be prioritized in the distribution of P2,400 unconditional cash transfers funded by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion ; and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) should likewise intensify feeding programs in preschool and daycare centers to arrest malnutrition.
He suggested that various executive departments should undertake initiatives to help address inflation, as follows: DepEd should intensify feeding programs in basic education, specially in moderate high malnutrition municipalities; the Department of Labor should increase its Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged-Displaced Workers or TUPAD Program; DA’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should hike its Bantay Dagat allocations; and, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources should allocate more funds for forest protection and provide downside protection to upland households.
On the national level, Salceda welcomed the issuance of an anti-inflation EO by President Duterte to control further escalation by expanding supply in the market. He said Duterte’s EO involves the adoption of streamlining procedures on food importation including registration of accredited importers and procedures to obtain import permits and licenses.
Under this procedure, the NFA, the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), and the DA, in coordination with DTI, shall remove administrative constraints and other non-tariff barriers on the importation of food and certain agricultural products.