Dominguez offers to educate Marcos on government pandemic response

Ian Nicolas Cigaral - Philstar.com
Dominguez offers to educate Marcos on government pandemic response
This photo shows Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III (L) and Sen. Imee Marcos (R).
Composite photo by Philstar.com / Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV

MANILA, Philippines — After schooling the lady senator on economic history, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday offered to brief Sen. Imee Marcos on the government's budget response to the coronavirus outbreak, which she thinks is insufficient.

In a letter dated May 26, a copy of which was sent to reporters, Dominguez invited Marcos, chairperson of the Senate committee on economic affairs, to a “special briefing” to answer the questions she raised during the May 20 Senate hearing on the government's handling of the health crisis.

“To clarify concerns you and the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs may have on the national economy, particularly on the national accounts, I would like to offer a special briefing to be conducted by a senior official from the (Economic Development Cluster) at your earliest convenience,” the finance chief told Marcos.

“Rest assured that the EDC is studying the points you raised during the Committee hearing,” he added. 

The invitation to Marcos came a week after she prodded Dominguez in a Senate hearing to launch a bolder stimulus package to reignite the economy from the damage of the virus and lockdowns that halted businesses and consumption. At the time, she went as far as suggesting directly assisting farmers who may have been disadvantaged by the outbreak.

A tit-for-tat then ensued when Marcos cited Masagana 99, an agriculture program of his father, late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., as a project the Duterte government can copy to help farmers. The suggestion did not sit well with Dominguez, who said he was left to “clean up the mess” left by Masagana 99 as agriculture secretary during the Corazon Aquino administration.

A failure

Launched in 1973 shortly after the martial law declaration, Masagana 99 served as the Marcos patriarch’s program to increase rice production by offering highly-subsidized loans to farmers so they can buy fertilizers and invest in equipment.

But the program ended up a colossal failure, with Dominguez pointing out that the government had to rescue around 800 banks from bankruptcy at the time due to a build-up of unpaid liabilities from farmers who secured credit supposedly to increase their productivity. 

Marcos, in that Senate hearing, tried to salvage herself by saying Masagana 99 succeeded in making the country a rice exporter, which while true, was short-lived and as some analysts have said, was not enough to justify the damage done on lenders by the program.

A day after the Senate hearing, and before this invitation for a seminar from the finance chief, Marcos also berated Dominguez. “What our country's chief economic manager is really saying is that rice farmers are a pain in the budget and are not worth subsidizing,” she said.

Under the government’s post-pandemic recovery plan, farmers would still be extended bank credit for their needs, but lending would be done by smaller microfinance institutions and countryside banks, and payable with interest. Loans will also be guaranteed by the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines and Philippine Guarantee Corp., which under a bill, would get P70 billion in fresh capital, to cover for the loans.

Philstar.com reached out to Marcos’ office for a response to Dominguez’ invitation, but the senator’s media relations team said she is yet to have an official reply.  

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