Admits people struggle coping with inflation, vows aid to poor sectors
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Sunday admitted life “is getting hard” for Filipinos amid rising inflation, as he committed his administration to giving continuous assistance to vulnerable sectors who are most hurt by surging consumer prices.
The Chief Executive made this commitment as he led the distribution of government cash assistance to various sectors in Talisay City, Negros Occidental.
Mr. Marcos also led the celebration of the 43rd MassKara Festival in the province’s capital, Bacolod City, even as he acknowledged how many Filipinos continue to struggle to make ends meet with the costs of basic goods and necessities rising further due to recent oil price hikes.
“We know that life is getting hard today. Prices for basic commodities are increasing, gasoline, crude, all our basic necessities are increasing. That’s why even in our own small way, at least we can help,” he said in Filipino.
“As long as the people need help, the government will do everything to somehow help them,” he added.
The President, who also heads the Department of Agriculture (DA), reiterated his promise to prioritize efforts to increase food production and lower the prices of food products.
He specifically cited problems besetting the country’s sugar supply, noting how the industry has been “neglected” for several years.
Mr. Marcos also expressed hope that the time would come when Filipinos would no longer need assistance from the government.
In Talisay, he handed over the Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situation (AICS) ranging from P5,000 to P10,000 to 100 recipients.
The AICS is a program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development that provides immediate relief assistance to individuals and families affected by calamities and other emergencies or crises.
He also turned over mock checks to six farmer organizations amounting to P88 million under the DA’s Philippine Rural Development Project.
The DA distributed palay seeds to 100 farmers, a corn mill, and three incubators.
On Saturday, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said the government is fast-tracking the distribution of cash aid to the poor and vulnerable sectors and increasing the food supply in the country “to give Filipinos a comfortable life.”
As director general of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), Balisacan said poverty incidence could have been higher had the government failed to further reopen the economy and distribute targeted subsidies to low-income households, public utility drivers, farmers, and fisherfolk.
This was indicated in a recent Social Weather Stations survey that revealed about 49 percent of Filipino families see themselves as poor.
Meanwhile, higher inflation will offset any gains enjoyed by families of overseas Filipino workers, exporters, business process outsourcingcompanies and foreign tourists from the stronger US dollar against the Philippine peso.
In a recent report, Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. chief economist Michael Ricafort said the peso has depreciated by 15.2 percent against the greenback since the start of 2022, benefitting those who earn in or owned US dollars.
But he said “any advantage may be eroded by higher prices or inflation already at a new four-year high of 6.9 percent in September 2022 and could potentially reach 7 percent levels until around October 2022,” he said.
The US dollar corrected lower against major global currencies on Oct. 21, amid reports that some Federal Reserve officials were concerned about over-tightening despite earlier hawkish signals from Fed officials.
Ricafort said the peso exchange rate remained relatively stable for the fourth straight week already at below the 59.00 psychological markafter the President signaled that the government might have to defend the peso in the coming months.
Mr. Marcos said the government could use interest rates to mitigate the impact of inflation, which is the administration’s main priority.
Inflation in September 2022 rose to a four-year high of 6.9 percent from 6.3 percent a month ago, driven mainly by faster increases in food and non-alcoholic beverages.
The September rate was significantly higher than the 4.2 percent a year ago and was the fastest since the 6.9 percent both in September and October 2018 during the rice crisis. This brings the first ninemonths’ average to 5.1 percent.
The peso settled at a record low of 59 per US dollar four times this month alone, on Oct. 3, 10, 13, and 17, 2022.
Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno signaled possible continued intervention in the peso exchange rate market to prevent it from breaching the P60-per-dollar level by using about $10 billion of the country’s gross international reserves.
Earlier, BSP Governor Felipe Medalla said the economy was strong enough to withstand local policy rate hikes.
The Monetary Board, the policy-making body of the BSP, raised the benchmark policy interest rate by another 50 basis points to 4.25 percent on Sept. 22 to rein in inflation and to support the depreciating peso.
The move followed an earlier 75-basis point hike by the US Federal Reserve to tame the persistently high inflation in the world’s biggest economy.
Since the start of the year, the BSP has raised the policy interest rate by 2.25 percent to 4.25 percent, from the record low of 2 percent when the year started.
The BSP maintained the 2 percent interest rate in 2021 to support the economy’s recovery from the pandemic.
Also on Sunday, Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the government must do more to uplift the lives of indigenous peoples (IPs), who remain among the poorest and most disadvantaged social groups in the country.
Angara lamented that little headway has been made to improve the lives of the IPs although Republic Act 8731 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA), which was enacted more than 25 years ago.
“We have over a hundred IP groups in the Philippines comprising anywhere between 14 million and 17 million indigenous cultural communities (ICCs). Much has been said to protect the rights andensure the welfare of our IPs, but the reality is they continue to be among the most disadvantaged groups,” Angara said.
According to the World Bank, while IPs comprise only 6 percent of the global population, they account for nearly 20 percent of the world’s extreme poor.
“What exacerbates the situation of our IPs is the absence of reliable public data on ICCs and more often than not, this leads to situations where they are neglected in the delivery of basic, social, technical, and even legal services,” Angara said.
To help remedy the situation, Angara has filed Senate Bill 1167 or the Resource Centers for Indigenous Peoples Act of 2022, which seeks to establish ICCs/IPs resource centers in strategic places, as determined by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), taking into consideration their ethnological locations.
These centers will be composed of three major service areas, namely: the Statistical Service Area; Human Development Index Service Area; and the Domains Management Service Area.