President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday said the country should brace for tough economic times ahead, especially if prices of petroleum products continue to rise in the world market.
“This is not the end of the story, guys,” he added. “You say we will suffer during my time. If things will move forward in accordance with the present calculations now, we will really suffer during my time.”
Speaking to reporters in Davao City on his return from a meeting with other leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bali, Indonesia, Mr. Duterte said the Philippines did not have the “good fortune” of countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei that produce oil.
He has already blamed the rising inflation rate, which hit a near decade-high of 6.7 percent in September, on the oil price hikes, a problem that he said he could do nothing about.
Fuel excise tax reduction
“I must give you the warning now. If the price of oil goes up, you can be sure there will be an announcement of price increases next week, because oil is everything,” the President said.
Mr. Duterte said he himself was affected by the country’s economic problems.
He said Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III would be looking into a possible P2 reduction in the fuel excise tax in the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law.
One way to cope with the expected economic woes, Mr. Duterte said, is to import rice to avoid people going hungry, because “stomach comes first.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority said rice was the No. 1 contributor to September’s inflation, adding that food items in the consumption basket accounted for more than half of the inflation rate that month.
According to the National Economic and Development Authority, rice, a staple for 93 percent of the population, makes up about 10 percent of the total consumer price index.
Mr. Duterte said his administration’s policy is to “keep the people … away from hunger so we have to import, whether we like it or not, and we have to plan.”
He tasked Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol with coming up with a formula that would balance the liberalized rice importation and the welfare of local rice farmers.
The President said rice should be imported for the lean months that come after the harvest season.
On Tuesday, he ordered the “unimpeded” importation of rice to boost the country’s supply and to lower prices.
“I thought that problem would never confront me. So that early on I appointed people, precisely to meet the challenges of rice shortage. But would you believe it … it really happened. I was the first one who ordered the importation. Some were in favor, some were not,” the President said.
The Duterte administration has been scrambling to tame soaring prices of food in the market by imposing a suggested retail prices on rice, fish and vegetables, along with easing importation rules to make way for cheaper food products.
In addition to that, the President directed an intensified campaign against rice hoarding, creating a multiagency committee to combat cartels and smugglers.
In its first major accomplishment, the government team seized 40,000 bags of rice from two rice traders in Iligan City, who were arrested, Piñol said in a Facebook post.
According to National Food Authority (NFA) acting Administrator Tomas Escarez, the rice stocks were found in four warehouses owned by Filipino-Chinese businesswoman Sonia Payan and Taiwanese Jhonny Tan in Iligan City.
Agencies that are members of the antihoarding committee include the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, National Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Customs, Philippine National Police, Philippine Ports Authority, Department of Trade and Industry, Philippine Coast Guard, Department of Labor and Employment, and the NFA. —WITH A REPORT FROM KARL R. OCAMPO