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Cushioning the impact of the TRAIN Law

/ 05:20 AM February 02, 2018

It appears that the new TRAIN Law could also turn out to be like our MRT-3 and PNR train systems that lack safety devices. Of course, the government assures us that inflationary spikes in the prices of basic goods and services resulting from the law’s implementation are only temporary. But commentators say the law benefits only those Filipinos in the formal sector with incomes of P250,000 and below. As Ibon Foundation observes, the law will really affect the 22.7 million families who do not pay income taxes because they belong to the informal sector composed of minimum wage earners with low and erratic incomes.

Even now, the feedback from my random talks with people in the street is that prices, particularly of food, have begun to increase. To think that food constitutes around half of the expenditures of families earning less than P250,000, per data from the Philippine Statistics Authority. Of course, the government has provided safety nets such as the cash transfer program and particular programs of the Commission on Higher Education and the Departments of Health, of Education, of Tourism, of Trade and Industry, and of Finance. But these schemes may be insufficient to lighten the burden of rising food prices among the poor, not to mention the mentality of dependency they create.

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What can be done, too, is to intensify community participation through the initiatives of government agencies. Local government units can be mobilized to implement IECM (information, education, communication and motivation) programs that will

motivate communities to practice what is called in development economics a “use economy”—i.e., a system that encourages local residents to be self-reliant in producing their basic needs for internal consumption. In this approach, there is a negation of the commoditizing effects of the capitalist economy that conditions residents to always purchase goods in the market. After attaining self-sufficiency in the production of life-sustaining needs, a self-reliant town can engage in the surplus production of goods for selective exchange to supply its other needs.

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After the motivation campaign, one logical move for LGUs to augment food production is to strictly enforce the provisions of the Local Government Code, one of which is to enhance local development through maximization of lands for productive use. In fact, only last year President Duterte threatened to double the taxes on idle lands that will not be developed within a decade. Through supplementary ordinances, LGUs can make formal arrangements with landowners for their vacant lands to be used by residents, cooperatives, farmers’ groups and nongovernment organizations for food production. A case in point is Muntinlupa City, which has initiated the imposition of an ad valorem tax on idle lands.

The Departments of Agriculture and of Agrarian Reform should then come in with their extension services in providing assistance on food production in both urban and rural areas.  Even in cities, idle lots can be used for vegetable, fruit and livestock production as well as food processing. The Inquirer, for example, has reported on the “Gulayan at Bulaklakan” project in Barangay Holy Spirit, Quezon City, where residents now grow vegetables, flowers and fruits in plots, terraces, sidewalks, pots, recycled pails and used tires, which is reminiscent of what Singapore is currently practicing.

As shown by land-deficient Singapore, we don’t even need much land to help the government achieve its goal of food security. Jack Ng, for instance, is well-known in Singapore for introducing vertical farming, which is five times more productive than a regular farm. His innovative technology also uses less water and produces safer organic products. Our blessing in the Philippines is that we have much more available land and also advanced technology from our reputable agricultural institutions that are just waiting to be tapped to temper the runaway food prices induced by the TRAIN Law.

Meliton B. Juanico, a retired professor of geography at UP Diliman, is a licensed environmental planner and is active in consultancy work in urban and regional planning.

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TAGS: Ibon Foundation, IECM, PNR, TRAIN Law
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