Gut issues that matter to the public

Governing a nation is not a simple task. Myriad of problems await the chief executive and he has to prioritize which among the issues should be resolved first.

But there are concerns that must be dealt with immediately before things get out of hand. Former president Rodrigo Duterte provided a short-term solution to rising rice prices during his term by easing the importation of the commodity. Philippine rice stocks were low and the clear solution was to address the lack of supply. True enough, rice prices went down quickly—leading to a lower inflation rate.

Water rates, too, were becoming prohibitive to consumers because of one-sided contracts with utilities. In one bold stroke, President Duterte ordered the renegotiation of the contracts with water utilities that eventually safeguarded the interest of consumers by preventing undue rate hikes.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is facing the same dilemma. He is facing increasing prices of commodities, especially of rice, due to the Ukraine-Russia conflict that has raised the cost of fuel, transportation and fertilizers. These are gut issues that affect the ordinary farmer and consumer, and which must be resolved quickly to calm the population.

Mr. Marcos is opting for a medium-term solution to once and for all handle the problem. I agree with the administration’s strategy to boost rice production with a farm-to-market plan. He likely unveiled the plan during his State of the Nation Address yesterday. (This column was written before the SONA).

Mr. Marcos has instructed the staff of the Department of Agriculture (which he temporarily heads) to prepare a farm-to-market road (FMR) masterplan that will serve as a guide in the nation’s bid to promote food security and empower rural communities.

There is nothing novel about FMR—every administration has tried to implement it. But Mr. Marcos wants a more detailed plan to make it work, bring the farmers closer to their market and give them a better price for their harvest. His instructions are clear—the masterplan should include regional maps detailing the exact locations of the farm-to-market roads to be built.

The FMR became the mantra for every administration. Without details, however, the FMR was relegated to be the pet projects of some politicians who initiated them merely as part their campaign promises.

For Mr. Marcos, the FMR is the first part to solve some of the bottlenecks in the supply chain. Pinpointing the productive agricultural areas where the FMR will begin is the first step in the right direction.

The FMR is a sort of a mini-infrastructure program that promotes inclusive economy. Farmers and fishermen will have the chance to improve their livelihood income through the FMR by way of reduced travel time for their goods and produce. A direct access to the market will do away with middlemen and traders, who take advantage of the farmers and fishermen by offering low prices. The construction of FMR will also provide employment in the countryside.

Other challenges

Inflationary pressures are building up not only in the Philippines but in the rest of the world as well. Wheat prices that impact on the cost of bread and the lowly pandesal are increasing because of the disruption in the supply chain brought about by the war in Ukraine.

Additional fare hikes caused by surging oil prices in the world market, and higher fish prices due to low supply are also buffeting our consumers. But these inflationary pressures, I believe, will settle down eventually as we address the supply side, especially of fish. We can control some of these inflationary pressures as we have done in the past. With Mr. Marcos at the helm of the Department of Agriculture, he has a firsthand view of the situation in the rice, fish and meat sectors.

On the monetary side, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas is on top of the situation. It declared last week that it is ready to take all the necessary policy actions to tame the inflation rate and bring it within the target range in the medium-term period.

We have competent men and women in the Cabinet who are up to the challenge of handling the ship. The Philippines has weathered Covid-19 and protected its citizens from further harm. We as a nation did not panic in the face of the Ukraine-Russia war, and there is no reason to be alarmed now. 

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