President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Monday said he will temporarily head the Department of Agriculture (DA), citing the need to urgently address the looming food crisis in the country.
“As to agriculture, I think that the problem is severe enough that I have decided to take on the portfolio of Secretary of Agriculture, at least for now,” Marcos said in a press conference in Mandaluyong City.
He said heading the DA himself will show that the government prioritizes agriculture. It will also allow measures to be carried out more quickly.
“I think it is important that the President take that portfolio so that not only to make it clear to everyone what a high priority we put on the agricultural sector, but also as a practical matter so that things move quickly because the events of the global economy are moving very quickly. We have to be able to be agile, we have to be able to respond properly in a measured way as soon as there is a situation that needs to be addressed,” he added.
Marcos said the most pressing matters that need to be addressed in the agricultural sector are increasing rice production and reorganizing the DA and its attached agencies.
He stressed the need to improve the country’s rice industry because Thailand and Vietnam are planning to form a rice export cartel to mitigate rising production costs.
“First of all will be to try to increase production as we come into the harvest period during, before, and after the rainy seasons. Hopefully, we can counteract some of the increases in prices. You may have noted that Thailand and Vietnam, for example, one of our main sources of imported rice, have decided to ban their rice exports at least for now. So we have to compensate for that by increasing production here in the Philippines,” he said.
Marcos also emphasized the need to reorganize DA and its attached agencies – the National Food Authority (NFA), the Food Terminal Incorporated (FTI), and the Kadiwa program.
“The other priority which is equally important, although it is a long-term process, is the restructuring of the Department of Agriculture. Many of the agencies have changed their function over the years and maybe it’s time to return them. I talk about organizations like the NFA, FTI, and the Kadiwa which we have already started to see, especially at the local level. But we have to restructure the actual department so as to be more responsive to the global situation now when it comes to food supply,” he added.
He described agriculture as a “critical and foundational part” of the country’s post-pandemic economic development and “transformation.”
As for immediate measures to assist sectors severely affected by the looming food crisis, Marcos pointed out the need to accelerate the issuance of national identification (ID) cards to ensure faster aid distribution.
“We’re going to digitize the bureaucracy. It all really depends on everyone having their national ID. It’s a good database that the government should have,” he said.
Meanwhile, Marcos said he has instructed agencies to make economic forecasts in response to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict which is disrupting global supplies of basic commodities.
“I have asked the DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], NEDA [National Economic and Development Authority], Department of Finance, the DBM [Department of Budget and Management], I have asked them to start to make economic forecasts on what it is we think we will have to face for the rest of this year so that we can prepare,” he added.
He also stood firm on his decision not to suspend excise tax on oil products, saying there are other ways to address the rising cost of fuel.
“If you reduce the excise taxes that does not necessarily help those who are most in need…So ang aking iniisip kung sino yung kaagad tinamaan, example yung lumabas kaagad, yung nagpapasada, ifocus muna natin sa kanila, yung nangangailangan talaga (So what I am thinking is that those immediately affected, example, public utility vehicle drivers, let’s put our focus on them, those who really need assistance,” he said.
In March, outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte approved the recommendation of the Department of Finance to provide direct aid to the most vulnerable sectors, allocating PHP33 billion for unconditional cash transfers to poor families instead of suspending excise tax on oil products.
Under this cash aid, qualified households would receive PHP200 a month or a total of PHP2,400 as aid. (PNA)