Shifts policy to hiked local output, focuses on improving the economy
The government would rather increase the domestic production of rice and corn than import even more to stabilize food prices, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Tuesday, in a briefing after his first Cabinet meeting.
The move to emphasize domestic production over importation was a marked departure from the agriculture policy of the previous administration.
“Importation has been used as a price stabilization measure. I don’t think that that is the primary reason for the importation that we’ll do now,” said Marcos, who is concurrently the Agriculture secretary.
“We would prefer to import as little as possible so we should increase our own production of rice and corn,” Marcos said.
The briefing from his economic team coincided with the release of a report from the Philippine Statistics Authority that headline inflation rate in June was at 6.1 percent, a three-year high since the 6.1 percent recorded in November 2018.
Marcos, however, disagreed with the figure even as the PSA stood by its report.
“6.1? I think I will have to disagree with that number. We are not that high,” Marcos said, even as he acknowledged the inflation rate may breach the government target.
“Our target was less — four percent or less. Unfortunately, it looks like we may cross that threshold,” the President said.
Marcos said the country needed to increase corn production to ensure a sufficient supply of feed for broiler production.
“It’s not really an import-substitution measure. It is a strategic food supply measure,” the President said.
Pork imports, however, were likely to continue because local production has been affected by AfricanSwine Fever (ASF), he added.
Chicken imports, on the other hand, would continue due to the lack of feeds.
“We cannot have a strong economy unless you have a foundation of a robust agricultural sector which assures food supply even in emergencies,” Marcos said. “And that’s what we’re working towards.”
The economy was item one in President Marcos’s first Cabinet meeting Tuesday, which started with a briefing from the economic team led by Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno.
“We can all understand that the most important area that we will have to deal with will have to be the economy,” Marcos told his Cabinet.
“The central policy that everybody else would be following will be that set out by our economic managers. So I asked the economic team to give us a briefing,” he said.
The President focused on several pressing issues, including controlling inflation, ensuring food security, supporting the transportation sector, and re-opening face-to-face classes, Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra, who was at the meeting, said.
Also during the meeting, the President rejected a proposal for government agencies to reduce their manpower to cut costs.
“We don’t want anyone out of a job at this point,” Marcos said.
Marcos’ pronouncement comes a week after Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez signed Memorandum Circular No. 1, which ordered all presidential appointees whose appointments are classified as “co-terminous” be deemed separated from service effective immediately.
Marcos said he wanted to have two Cabinet meetings a week until the new officials have a better picture of what he plans.
“We did not finish simply because there was so much to talk about,” Marcos said in a press briefing at the Heroes Hall in Malacañan.
“I am planning perhaps, for the next two or three weeks to accelerate the number of Cabinet meetings, maybe two a week first until it is very clear that the entire Cabinet understands what it is we’re trying to do, how we’re going to do it, what the timetable is and how it all fits together,” Marcos added.
Marcos’ Cabinet remains incomplete, as he has yet to appoint secretaries in some departments, including the Department of Health.
Marcos is already in the final stage of evaluating the candidates for vacant posts in his Cabinet, Cruz-Angeles said in a Palace press briefing on Monday.
Marcos earlier issued a flurry of orders to officials of the Department of Agriculture, with focus on policies to address a looming food crisis which he said could hit the country “in the next two quarters.”
Marcos, who personally heads the DA portfolio, met with the agency’s officials Monday.
“We have to attend to the impending food crisis. It seems that it’ll be visiting us in the next two quarters. When we look around the world, everyone is preparing for it. We are already at a disadvantageous position in terms of food supply,” he said during the closed-door meeting.
He said it was crucial for people to have sufficient food at a price they can afford.
In May, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. warned food shortage may happen within the year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to affect food and raw material prices in the world market.
“We have to increase our production and we have to talk about the ways that we can do it,” Marcos said.
The President directed the DA officials to submit their proposed executive orders, including a possible measure seeking a supplementary budget from Congress.
“Do not be hesitant to make it [proposal] multi-year. I don’t believe you can do this in one year or in three years,” he said.
Marcos also ordered the DA to submit a list of pros and cons on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP) – a free-trade agreement among the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and its partners, Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand.
“The programs we talked about, just give me a baseline of what has been done so that I would know the programs you have been working on,” the President said.
Marcos also instructed the DA to “operationalize” Masagana 150 and Masagana 200 – two proposed programs named after the Masagana 99 rice production program during the administration of his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
Masagana 150 seeks to produce 7.5 tons of inbred rice per hectare at P8.38 per kilogram (kg), to allow farmers to earn at least P50,000 per hectare.
Masagana 200, on the other hand, seeks a yield of 10 tons of hybrid rice per hectare at a production cost of P7.82 per kilogram so that farmers can earn at least P70,000 per hectare.
“These are good plans that we have to put in place. Let’s operationalize them already,” Marcos said.