MANILA, Philippines – Not being able to implement a wage increase for Filipino farmers is the biggest missed opportunity of the Philippines under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
Abad told the audience of 2015 League of Corporate Foundations (LCF) expo and conference on Wednesday, July 1, that the government should have raised the salary of small local farmers which could have helped develop the agricultural sector of the country.
“If you were to ask me, although it’s really the mandate of the Department of Agriculture, [the] biggest regret or missed opportunity is not being able to raise the salary of small farmers; opportunity for greater productivity lies in the rural areas. Through this, we could have developed our agricultural sector more effectively,” Abad said.
Poverty incidence among Filipinos in the first semester of 2014 was estimated at 25.8%, according to the latest data of the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). This is higher than the 24.6% recorded in the same period in 2013.
“In fact, if you look at our poverty reduction performance since 2010, it has been progressively falling. But in 2014, poverty incidence increased. The average per capita per income of the population’s lowest 40% was about 7%, whereas those of the higher income bracket are at 4%,” Abad said.
Poverty incidence, food policy
The poverty incidence in 2014 erased the gains the government made since 2010, Abad said.
The root cause of poverty in the Philippines is not being able to increase the salary of Filipino farmers. This, in turn, decreased productivity of farmers and raised food prices.
“What was the factor then? Food price inflation. The price of food went up by 9.5% but the price of rice went up by 12%. It practically erased the gains in per capita income growth of 40% poorest sectors,” he explained.
Aside from raising farmers’ salary, Abad said he could have also helped implement a food policy for the lowest 40% of the population.
“Also, being able to come up with a food policy that really directs itself to the poor people in this country, with that, I think poverty at this stage would be less than 20%. So I think that’s one of the areas we could have radically made changes,” Abad said.
The budget secretary said that these issues “are for the next government to worry about.”
“We’ve seen the challenges within this administration and there is certainly a lot of wisdom the next administration can learn from,” Abad said.
2016 crucial for change
The year 2016 is crucial for Philippine development, as Flipinos will choose the right leader who will sustain, and even further improve, the current economic gains.
Abad, who served as campaign manager of the ruling Liberal Party in the 2010 presidential elections, said public and private organizations as well as communities “should frame 2016 as a continuity of that collaboration that we started in 2010.”
“In 2010, you put the politicians and political parties in the right places. I will concede to you for example, the Liberal Party wasn’t the major party that brought President Aquino into power. It was really a huge social movement,” Abad said.
The budget chief has been pushing for his party mate, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, as the best bet in the 2016 presidential race. (READ: Abad: Choose the ‘right leaders’ to sustain PH growth)
Abad reiterated that the “character” of the next administration will play a key role in continuing the development trajectory that the Philippines is currently heading to.
“What is the character of the leader we are looking for such another undertaking? From that basis, we should make our choice, rather than looking at surveys for the highest number of people rooting for a certain prospect,” Abad said.
The budget secretary ended his speech with this advice to private organizations: “This time around, if we go through a more deliberate sustained public-private collaboration that continues from 2010, I think we will not make a mistake from choosing the right leader in 2016.” – Rappler.com