By Merlina Hernando-Malipot
Vice President Leni Robredo on Monday urged the government to focus on issues that make the lives of ordinary Filipinos more difficult – particularly the continued price increase of basic commodities and the scarcity of rice, among others.
Robredo, along with Liberal Party lawmakers, expressed growing concern on the increasing prices of basic commodities, particularly rice. She also made several recommendations as to how the government should address the ongoing rice crisis.
“Ito pong paghahanap ng solusyon, matagal na nating hinihingi ito, at iyong pakiramdam po natin isa itong bagay na napaka-urgent na kailangan na talaga (Finding for a solution is something that we’ve been asking for a long time, and we feel it’s a very urgent matter to be addressed),” said Robredo in a press conference at the Office of Vice President (OVP) Reception House in Quezon City.
“Ilang linggo na din po tayong nanawagan sa ating pamahalaan na agarang gumawa ng hakbang para tugunan ang tuloy-tuloy na pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin, lalong lalo na ang bigas (It’s been weeks since we called for our government to take immediate steps to address the steady rise in commodity prices, especially rice),” said Robredo, noting that in the previous weeks, there have been conflicting statements coming from various government officials on this issue.
Citing the steady increase of basic commodities, from the price of rice – which is considered a staple Filipino food— to fish, as well as the increased jeepney fare in some parts of the country, Robredo urged the government to address underscored the need for the government to “urgently address” these concerns. “Napakabilis po talagang magtaasan ng mga presyo; hindi na makasabay ang karaniwang mga Pilipino (Prices are really increasing very fast; the average Filipinos can no longer keep pace with them),” she added.
Given all these, Robredo noted that there are steps that need to be undertaken by the government as soon as possible to show its “seriousness” in addressing the worsening situation of price increase of basic commodities.
Among the suggestions offered by Robredo to address the rising prices of basic commodities include the immediate “fixing” of the National Food Authority (NFA) to be able to resolve the issue of rice shortage experienced nationwide. She also urged the government to choose a “competent” chief for the NFA council.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, who was also present during the briefing, also noted that the issue with NFA officials goes beyond “incompetence but also allegations of corruption.”
Pangilinan also explained that raiding warehouses alone, as pronounced by President Rodrigo Duterte to resolve the rice crisis, “will not solve the problem” because if the one who will raid is corrupt, it “becomes a bigger a problem” for the government.
Meanwhile, Robredo also suggested that the government should seriously consider the suspension the tax reform package or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN 1) – particularly the provision which increases the excise tax on fuel.
Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, on the other hand, reiterated the need to suspend TRAIN 1. “It’s already a social justice issue,” he said, noting that the tax increase will be an “injustice” to Filipinos who are already suffering from increasing prices of basic commodities.
Overall, Robredo urged the Duterte administration to expand or widen the social safety nets – particularly increasing the number of beneficiaries of the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program as well as their raising the amount of their monthly unconditional cash transfer – as well as the other programs of other government agencies that should offer social protection initiatives.
As government officials, Robredo – along with other LP members – underscored the need to work together for a common goal: that is to address the ongoing crisis on rice as well as to curb the skyrocketing prices of commodities which make ordinary Filipinos suffer.
“Bilang mga opisyal po ng pamahalaan at hinalal ng taumbayan, obligasyon po namin maghain ng mga panukala na maiibsan ang hirap ng ating mga mamamayan (As government officials and elected by the people, we are obliged to make proposals to alleviate the hardships of our peoples),” Robredo said.
Along with other members of the LP, Robredo expressed optimism that the government “would seriously consider” their suggestions and recommendations. Lahat po tayo, lalo na iyong mga mahihirap, nararamdaman talaga iyong pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin. At panahon ito para umaksyon at maghanap ng konkretong solusyon (All of us, especially your poor, really feel your price hike. And it’s time to go ahead and find a concrete solution),” she ended.