MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to issue an executive order (EO) intended to address soaring inflation, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia told Rappler.
The possibility of issuing an EO was discussed during Duterte's private meeting with the economic managers right before the 29th Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, September 11.
The EO will help implement the measures proposed by the Cabinet's economic cluster to help lower prices of essential food items like rice, poultry, and sugar. (READ: EXPLAINER: How inflation affects you)
"We proposed 9 measures to contain inflation and a corresponding EO to get them implemented straight away – to which he (President Duterte) agreed," Pernia said in a message on Wednesday, September 12.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque eventually confirmed that the EO was indeed proposed on Tuesday night. The proposed EO seeks to lessen trade barriers that complicate the importation of rice, fish, sugar, meat, and vegetables.
"The economic cluster group will submit a draft executive order to the Office of the President removing administrative constraints and non-tariff barriers on importation of fish, rice, sugar, meat and vegetables," said Roque.
"This means there will be a more simplified process of importing food," he added.
Pernia said the economic team also presented other measures to address inflation. Some of these had been laid out in the Cabinet's economic cluster joint statement on August 2018 inflation.
Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III confirmed that Duterte "expressed support" for the economic team's proposals.
One of these is for the Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and farmers' groups to be part of a monitoring team ensuring rice stocks from ports reach National Food Authority (NFA) warehouses and retail outlets.
This is to make sure the imported rice does not get in the hands of greedy rice traders who could hoard the rice in order to artificially raise rice prices to their benefit.
As a further measure, 4.6 million sacks of rice in NFA warehouses will be "immediately released" to markets all over the country. The economic managers expect some two million sacks to be delivered by the end of September.
The NFA Council has also approved the importation of 5 million sacks arriving in November. Zamboanga, Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi will be sent 2.7 million sacks of rice to address the reported shortage there.
Poultry, fish, sugar
To lower the prices of fish in markets, the Department of Agriculture (DA) will replicate the issuance of certificates of necessity so that imported fish can be distributed to wet markets all over the country.
As for poultry, the DA and the Department of Trade and Industry will arrange for poultry producers to set up shop in public markets so that consumers can directly buy from them. This would mean cheaper poultry items since the process bypasses middlemen or other steps that add to retail prices. The DA will provide cold storage.
On fish, the DA has committed to replicating the issuance of certificates of necessity to allow imports to be distributed to wet markets in Metro Manila and other markets in the country.
To stem rising prices of sugar, the economic team proposed that the Sugar Regulatory Administration open importation of sugar to direct users.
Longterm measures suggested by the economic team include tariffication of sugar, meat, fish, and vegetables. Duterte has already certified as urgent bills on rice tariffication.
Duterte appeared to give priority to the issue of inflation as he devoted a private meeting to it whereas the Cabinet meeting itself lasted only two hours. In his one-on-one interview with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo before the meetings, he admitted inflation was high but gave assurances that his economic team was "working on it." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.