CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

Next to a definite failing grade of “5” or singko, what many UP students dislike the most is an “INC” or Incomplete. You haven’t failed but you did not pass the course either. It also meant that you would have to submit added requirements or take a test. If you fail to do so, then your “INC” goes into the realm of virtual reality to haunt you for the rest of your days.

President Bongbong Marcos, through the office of the Executive Secretary, recently intervened in two pressing concerns. The first was ordering the MMDA to stop arresting e-trike and e-bike drivers on the road and issuing tickets to them. Instead, the President gave a one-month grace period to implement the new policy.

Ironically, MMDA Chairman Artes has been talking about the ban and arrest of e-trikes and e-bikes on national roads weeks, even months, before the deadline. A number of mayors have talked about it in media, so in terms of public information, everybody already knew about the ban and deadline. The violators themselves are not surprised, they simply counter that it is their only means of livelihood or it is a convenient mode of transport.

The presidential order, in effect, interfered or disrupted what should have been a done deal. Considering there are no national organizations or federations protesting the ban, it is evident that the solution was intended as a goodwill gesture or for pogi points.

After that intervention, the President gave an order to the Department of Agriculture to remove all non-tariff restrictions on the importation of agricultural products such as pork, etc. This particular intervention is probably Malacañang’s way of pacifying the public’s worry and discontent regarding food inflation as well as another goodwill gesture for meat importers.

In the worst case, one would suspect that the President has been advised to intervene on those two issues primarily to score PR points or avoid a further dip in his popularity rating. Life has not been easy for the President, particularly due to the resistance and defiance of jeepney drivers and operators against the modernization act and the growing tensions with China.

Based on a recent survey, Filipinos have expressed that their most pressing concern are food inflation and low salaries or paychecks that have been left way behind by inflation across the board. Unable to pass a salary increase for all, the President will have to come up with something better than his “incomplete solution” that does not benefit all or, as Filipinos say, “Sana All.”

The presidential order to remove non-tariff restrictions on agricultural imports will surely be met by importers with Halleluiahs but this will not necessarily create major price drops and reverse food inflation even by a long shot. The order only covers imported agricultural products which are generally meats, dairy, etc. Importers control the supply, the price and who gets to buy their products, as in – it’s a “seller’s market.”

The people selling commercial, or retail, are not just struggling with prices, they have logistics, storage, rent, manpower expenses to cover and all of that go into the equation. I’m stating what readers may think is obvious, but many people in power, who get a lot of freebies daily or have so much money, that they never see the details.

At most the presidential solution attempts to speed up importation but does not necessarily cut or trim on the tariff cost to import. So, in terms of real prices, the product cost remains the same, unless the President declares “open season” or “open importation” for all.

That was the initial idea with the Rice Tariffication Law until legislators had to justify the act by including a 30+ percent import duty that would go to a farmers’ support fund for the economic damage done to them. But that turned out to be a poison pill many small importers were not willing to take because rice prices are volatile, the import duties are high and importers could end up battling with other importers.

The problem really is the government enjoys their tax collections and only come up with lip service solutions to real problems. Chances are the lifting of non-tariff restrictions for agricultural products will simply create more enemies and critics for PBBM and his decline in popularity and performance ratings will continue. Already there are accusations being hurled online that the President and the First Lady are favoring campaign contributors and kamaganak.

The problem with liberalization or populist solutions is that institutions or large sectors end up paying the price. While President Bongbong Marcos may be commended for wanting to bring down food inflation, PBBM should also make a serious effort towards supporting and uplifting the state of local agricultural producers, feed companies, as well as farms.

If government were to give up the front-end tax or duties on raw materials, equipment and plant and animal genetic materials or livestock, and then make agricultural productivity nationwide a priority platform of the PBBM administration, the government can recover their initial sacrifice/loss once goods, finished products and services become taxable at markets, supermarkets, restaurants and resorts.

President BBM must help Filipino farms and farmers first before he indirectly supports farmers in China, Asia, America and Europe by liberalizing agricultural imports. During his father’s time, the Philippines had the best technicians, managers and experts in agriculture. Because of FM’s support and affinity with agriculture, the country was in a good place. Unfortunately, many of them were pirated by other companies in other countries after EDSA 1.

As far as agricultural development is concerned, PBBM continues to have an “incomplete” – but there is still time.

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E-mail: [email protected]

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