Instead of attacking the opposition, the Duterte administration should focus on addressing rising inflation, according to Vice President Leni Robredo.
Robredo said the 6.4 percent inflation rate for August, the highest in nine years, is a confirmation that the prices of basic commodities like rice continue to increase without effective government intervention.
“Expending political capital for divisive moves like revoking the validity of the amnesty provided to Senator (Antonio) Trillanes at a time when the quality of life of our people is at stake comes at the expense of addressing the issues that truly matter to the Filipino,” she said.
“Our previous call to this administration to do what needs to be done to ease the difficulties that ordinary Filipinos have to face has become even more urgent,” she added.
Instead of shutting down those who point out its inefficiencies, Robredo expressed hope that the administration could rise to the challenge of putting forward coherent solutions to bring down prices.
“The Filipino people who suffer the brunt of such rising prices are not served by further politicking. What our people need is a government that truly works for the public interest and does not waste its power and resources on pursuing personal and petty concerns,” she said.
The Vice President reiterated her appeal to the administration to consider her proposed measures aimed at addressing the rising prices of basic commodities.
Her proposals include the stabilization of the country’s rice supply through the installation of competent and trustworthy leadership at the National Food Authority and reversing the excise tax on fuel and any further impositions.
Robredo also called for a reassessment of the unconditional cash transfers for those affected by the tax reform program, and ensuring that all qualified beneficiaries get assistance at the soonest possible time.
“Those who are affected most by rising prices deserve that these measures should have been in place from the very start,” she said.
“We ask the government to stop dismissing inflation as a sign of a growing economy. Economic growth is meaningless if it does not redound to the uplifting of the lives of the poorest segment of our society,” she added.
The Vice President said hunger and poverty which are exacerbated by rising prices remain the country’s most serious concerns and that the government should address these at the soonest possible time.
“We cannot simply ignore the fact that our fellow Filipinos are suffering, especially the poor, as the highest increases were observed in food and beverages that comprise the biggest share of a family’s household budget,” she said.
“Glib talk can no longer be used to dismiss the cries of our people, who yearn for assurance, compassion and effective action from the people they have entrusted to be their leaders,” the Vice President added.
Nothing was done
Senators also urged the administration to immediately address the surging prices.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the people – especially in the National Capital Region – are already reeling from the effects of the 6.4 percent inflation rate recorded in August.
Drilon said he had expected President Duterte to issue an executive order imposing zero tariff on imported fish, corn, vegetables and feed wheat while Congress was on a one week break last month.
“We did adjourn in the expectation that the economic managers will come up with a new tariff structure to lower the prices, at least remove the effects of the tariff rates on the prices. But nothing happened. Apparently, the adjustment of the tariff rates is not a policy that is adopted to address inflation,” Drilon said.
Sen. Nancy Binay said the government must focus now on the economy and “identify the key drivers and the range of internal and external factors that continue to have a material impact on the increase in prices, and how to arrest the nearly galloping speed.”
Sen. Joel Villanueva said the economic managers are clearly not on top of the situation based on the latest inflation figures.
“We cannot wait for prices to get further out of control. The economic managers do not seem to be serious in dealing with the problem,” Villanueva said.
“So now, we are considering the option of joining our colleagues in reversing the fuel excise tax to at least temper this runaway price surge. We also reiterate our consistent call to liberalize the entry of cheaper rice and to lower VAT to address this inflation debacle,” he added.
Minority congressmen, for their part, are urging President Duterte to replace his economic managers for their failure to control inflation.
“The President should change the members of his economic team and those in charge of rice supply and food security for inefficiency. They are not capable to do what they are tasked to do,” minority leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez said.
When asked who he was referring to, Suarez named Secretaries Carlos Dominguez of finance, Benjamin Diokno of budget, Ernesto Pernia of economic planning and Ramon Lopez of trade and industry.
Deputy minority leader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza said Dominguez should be blamed for rising consumer prices.
“The culprit is TRAIN 1,” he said, referring to the first package of the administration’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion program pushed vigorously by Dominguez.
“We have seen the spikes in prices due to TRAIN-1, and now he is pushing again for TRAIN-2. This will worsen the situation for the entire country,” Atienza said.
Rep. Michael Romero of 1-Pacman, who is an economist, urged the government to “do drastic measures now to counter inflation or we might risk being compared to Venezuela.” The South American country is reeling from runaway inflation.
“This problem has to be taken in all its seriousness as the escalation in food prices is already exorbitant. The question is where is the ceiling when it comes to inflation? Are we moving towards hyperinflation?”
Another resident economist in the House of Representatives, Joey Salceda of Albay, said the highest price hike in nine years “is already self-inflicted largely because we did little or nothing.”
He said the high inflation “would reverse gains in poverty reduction and hunger mitigation since the main culprit is food inflation, which surged by 8.5 percent.”
“We can no longer blame market opportunists-profiteers and rice hoarders. The only notable measure we implemented in response was the 50 bps (basis points) increase in policy rates of the BSP (Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas),” he said.
With high inflation, workers are expected to clamor for a wage increase.
Leftist and opposition congressmen said Duterte is more preoccupied with harassing his political enemies instead of attending to the nation’s economic problems.
“Everyone is fair game under this tyrannical regime. Duterte is trying to deflect his economic woes by hitting the opposition hard. High time that we revive people power,” Rep. Tom Villarin of Akbayan said.
Teodoro Baguilat Jr. of Ifugao said the administration should tackle runaway inflation “instead of devoting its energies on finding dubious jurisprudence and concocting strategies to arrest critics and stifle opposition.”
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate put the blame for high inflation “squarely on President Duterte and his economic managers.”
“With the impending passage of TRAIN 2, we are in for an even worse situation. People have not yet recovered from sufferings caused by TRAIN-1 and now comes TRAIN-2, which will make life even harder for them,” he said.
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairman Antonio Flores said the country’s economic managers should try living on the minimum wage “and let’s see if they would survive.” The daily minimum wage is P512.
He said monitoring inflation in their air- conditioned offices will not give Duterte’s economic managers a feel of the real sufferings of the public. – With Marvin Sy, Ding Cervantes, Mayen Jaymalin