THE National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) alerted the government to the need for cash aid to the most vulnerable as El Niño ramps up, putting upward pressure on food prices.
“It is important to ensure that the most vulnerable sectors of the society are protected and provided assistance especially while food prices remain high amid the expected El Niño,” NEDA Undersecretary Rosemarie G. Edillon said at a Palace briefing.
She also expressed support for maintaining a low-tariff regime on key food imports.
Even with easing inflation, it is “crucial” for the government to continue “monitoring the prices of commodities particularly food, transportation, and energy,” she added, due to “geopolitical uncertainties” and the expected El Niño-induced dry spell, which is forecast to peak in late 2023 and early 2024.
Ms. Edillon, who did not elaborate on the size of the cash assistance program, said the government is also counting on the Social Welfare department’s food stamp program to temper the effects of potential price increases.
Citing a Cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Ms. Edillon said President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. had ordered government officials to focus on supporting food-producing provinces that are less likely to be hit by El Niño.
“A number of provinces are less likely to be hit by El Niño. And so, in the briefing this morning — that was actually the instruction of the President — to make sure that we target the production support to these provinces,” she said.
Ms. Edillon said the Economic Development Group is also recommending the extension of the reduced tariff rates for pork, rice, corn and coal until the end of 2024 “subject to a mid-year review.”
Import duties on the four commodities were first lowered in 2021, via an executive order issued by former President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
Mr. Marcos, who has stated that his priority is to look after the welfare of domestic producers, in September rejected his economic managers’ proposal to temporarily cut duties on rice imports to as low as 0% from 35%.
Inflation eased to 4.9% in October from 6.1% a month earlier and 7.7% in August, the Philippine Statistics Agency announced on Tuesday. Food inflation at the national level declined to 7.1% last month from 10% a month earlier.
At the same briefing, Ms. Edillon said a possible escalation of the war between Israel and Hamas would have an immediate impact on energy prices.
She said power plants and transmission projects that are expected to be completed this year or early next year would need to be brought onstream according to the timetable.
“The instruction was to make sure they are on schedule. So if that’s the case, the impact on us will be limited,” she said.
Public investment analyst Terry L. Ridon said it has been three weeks since the war began but the “price fluctuations on oil and energy prices are still essentially market driven, with no significant impact on global supply.”
“Economic officials should clarify this view, as it does not assuage real concerns about the conflict, and our interest is to ensure steady supply and prices of our oil imports,” he said in a Messenger chat.
Ms. Edillon said the government’s top priority is to ensure that Filipinos in the Middle East are safe and “that we can bring back safely” those who may be in immediate danger. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza