Was that a Freudian slip, Sec. Diokno?
In his regular press briefing last week, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno was quizzed by reporters about President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s EO 39 setting a price cap on rice. In the ensuing exchange, Diokno said the President’s economic managers were caught off guard, “Nagulat syempre” (We were really surprised). While he eventually justified and expressed support for the price cap, the damage has been done. As expected, the media exchange went viral and grabbed headlines. Worse, it drew the usual critics out of the woodwork, attacking the President for a major policy decision without consulting his economic team.
But was that actually the case? By Diokno’s own admission, he [Diokno] and Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan were in Japan for some finance meeting when they learned about PBBM’s policy pronouncement. In short, they were absent. So how can the President consult them when he is here and his top economic experts were abroad, albeit on official mission? And why did their underlings fail to warn them of the impending policy shift early on so they can intervene?
This brings to fore another issue against Diokno’s economic team: Were they bitten by the travel bug? As of this writing, the finance chief, Sec. Amenah Pangandaman and Sec. Balisacan are in Qatar for the first leg of their Middle East investor briefing.
Whatever the case, Diokno’s Freudian slip is not helping the president. When the decision of their boss is under attack, it behooves upon Cabinet members to close ranks. But instead of displaying unity, the finance chief’s remarks projected an administration in disarray at this critical juncture of rising inflation and discontent.
No wonder even his usual allies in Congress are unhappy with Diokno’s lapsus linguae. Some even feel the finance chief seem too eager to please his economist friends and former colleagues at the UP School of Economics. If he finds it difficult to toe the official line, he may soon find himself back teaching economics in UP. But that, as they say, is another story.
LGUs should buy rice (palay) harvest of constituents at P21/kilo
It’s rice harvest season and all eyes are focused on the palay buying prices in our rice producing provinces. After the controversial EO on rice price control, farmgate price of “wet” palay went down to P16 and P17 per kilo while “dry” palay dropped to P20 per kilo from P23. According to Federation of Free Farmers national manager Raul Montemayor, farmers again suffer the brunt of the decision to impose price cap on rice.
But a positive development is happening in rice-rich Nueva Ecija and Isabela. Both LGUs are leading the way to directly purchase rice harvest of their constituent farmers this month until November. In cooperation with Land Bank in Talavera-Nueva Ecija, town and city mayors of this province will be granted credit lines allowing each LGU to buy rice directly from farmers. This practice was successful in September 2019 when then Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez allowed Land Bank and Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) to open credit lines to provinces that are major rice producers. This improved palay buying prices effectively and stabilized the supply.
Under the arrangement, the purchased palay will be turned over to the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase its palay stocks. At the same time, this will settle the LGU’s credit and enable it to buy again its constituent farmers’ harvest at a higher price. If the unscrupulous traders are unrestricted, they will pressure farmers further into debt, compressing buying prices and then the evil circle of greed and price manipulation will continue. Under the new set-up, the LGUs are in a better position to really help their constituent farmers instead of middlemen or dummy cooperatives controlled by unscrupulous traders.
Former Congressman Rene Diaz, now chairman and president of the think tank group Center for Strategic Studies, warned government that unscrupulous rice importers and traders will always try to create a shortage and bring rice prices up mainly because the NFA has very limited stocks. If the LGUs are allowed to buy their local rice harvests, on behalf of NFA, this will boost rice stocks and therefore lower prices in the long term. This will also serve as a model for other LGUs which have rice farmers.
Today, around 3.7 million tons of imported rice as well as the summer crop are in the hands of the private sector. Some were discovered recently in four warehouses in Balagtas, Bulacan. Diaz is suggesting that President Marcos Jr. continue with the inspection of all warehouses nationwide. “But this time it must include the comparison of the importation records of the Bureau of Customs against the issued authority to import by the Department of Agriculture”. “Any unauthorized stock should immediately be subject to seizure procedures and since rice is perishable, it can be confiscated”, he ended.
This, to my mind, should be the correct approach of government in these times of rice crises.
FIBA 2023: All Filipinos deserve kudos for excellent hosting
Germany was declared champion out of 32 nations. We were 24th but we defeated China and qualified for a berth in the next Olympics. Our basketball crazy nation erased the standing FIBA World Cup attendance of 32,616 where USA clobbered Russia 137-91 in a gold medal game at Sky Dome, Toronto, Canada, on August 14, 1994.
On the event’s opening day on August 25, which was declared by Malacañang as a nonworking holiday for government and schools in Metro Manila, 38,115 people attended the Gilas-Dominican Republic game at the Philippine Arena, the highest standing record today in FIBA World Cup history.
In that ten-day tournament, the Philippines hosted 16 World Cup basketball teams in the grueling games and Final Phase at MOA and Araneta Coliseum. At the same time, FIBA held its 2023 Manila Congress and Hall of Fame Ceremony with around 200 delegates from their National Federations. Local organizers rolled out state-of-the art sports facilities, first class hotel accommodations and transport, efficient bus service from hotel to playing and practice venues and back, round the clock security, comfortable VIP lounges, excellent handling of FIBA Congress Manila, world class broadcast coverage and memorable game experience.
FIBA World Cup executive director David Crocker gave the high marks on the Philippines’ hosting, saying the local organizers have delivered on every front. “The experience of the players and the fans, which are top priorities of the World Cup, have received only high praise. For the fans, the games have been fantastic and exciting,” he said.
Everything was perfect and no minor crimes reported from among the delegates, the basketball stars, and their fans. But to Filipino basketball enthusiasts, the highlight is the historic transformation of the famous SM Mall of Asia globe into a huge LED giant basketball with a hoop seen worldwide by millions of FIBA basketball fans.
The giant installation, measuring 1.5 meters in diameter, inside a ring with 11 meters in circumference, officially signaled the country’s all-out efforts to kick off FIBA World Cup 2023. This monumental project was conceived by the SMART group and unbelievably constructed in just 19 days by my friends from the Uprising Media Marketing Group. What a magnificent and proudly Filipino LED work of art. Again, congrats to all of us.