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MANILA, Philippines – Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel on Monday, July 31, urged President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to address the “very high” cost of living in the country, as the Chief Executive failed to mention in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) the need to raise people’s wages.
“The cost of living is very high. The income of the typical Filipino family is not enough for their basic needs and for their decent existence as a family of human beings. Those who are employed are not paid ‘living wages.’ Many are unemployed and many more are underemployed,” Pimentel said in his contra-SONA on Monday.
The contra-SONA is traditionally delivered by the minority leader as a reaction to the President’s speech.
Pimentel said that regional wage boards have been “slow to react to realities on the ground,” and new legislation was needed to ensure that all workers receive a just living wage.
The minority leader added that while the regional wage board in Metro Manila raised the minimum wage by 7% (an additional P40 to the previous minimum wage of P570), it was still not enough to sustain a living in the metropolis.
He also lamented the high prices of basic commodities, which the President boasted in his SONA as having declined.
“Mahirap ang buhay ng Filipino ngayon. Mahal ang presyo ng pagkain at iba pang bilihin. At patuloy pa rin ang pagtaas ng presyo ng mga ito. Isama na rin natin diyan ang gastos sa tubig, kuryente, renta, transportasyon, at iba pang importante at hindi maiwasang mga gastusin,“ he said.
(Life is difficult for Filipinos today. Prices of food and commodities are expensive. And prices continue to rise. That’s in addition to the cost of water, electricity, rent, transportation, and other important basic needs.)
Senator Imee Marcos had also said on Thursday, July 27, that prices of basic goods continue to be high – contrary to her brother’s claim. (READ: Lower food prices? ‘Sobrang mahal pa rin ng bilihin’ – Imee Marcos)
Pimentel also questioned Marcos’ remark on employment rate in the country, casting doubt on the figures.
“I have grave doubts on the reported 95.7% employment rate. That leaves us with only 4.3% unemployment rate. At that rate of unemployment, the Philippines can be considered a fully employed economy. That means that all willing and able individuals who are seeking employment are able to find suitable work,” he said.
“The figures on employment matters are misleading and do not reflect the true state of the nation,” Pimentel added.
No mention of Maharlika
Pimentel, one of the fiercest critics of the Maharlika Investment Fund Act, was glad that Marcos did not tout it as one of the greatest achievements of his administration, “as achievement it is clearly not.”
“What is sad is that to make P125 billion earn, we have to spend around P2.5 billion first. Another thing that is sad is that the first to get jobs out of this Maharlika Investment Fund are members of ‘a group of internationally recognized economic managers,’ who are most likely foreigners,” he said.
The senator also appealed to Marcos to already appoint a full-time agriculture secretary. Marcos has been heading the agency in concurrent capacity since he assumed office.
“Aren’t the people entitled to an explanation from the government on why the price of onion reached an all-time high of P800/kg [in December 2022], making onion more expensive than meat? Also, why sugar prices have spiked to as high as P136/kg,” he said.
The President earlier ordered an investigation into the onion cartel and the smuggling and hoarding of agricultural products but did not set a deadline.
“The State of the Nation is worrisome. Nakakabagabag. Nakakabahala. (Unsettling. Disturbing.),” Pimentel said as he ended his contra-SONA. – Rappler.com