By Mario Casayuran
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros unveiled on Friday six policy prescriptions to help the public dodge the negative effects of the economic slowdown as the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew slower at 6 percent in the second quarter of the year amid a five-year high-inflation rate.
“While we in the opposition will continue to hold the government to account for its grave abuses, this will not prevent us from offering our constructive and progressive alternatives to the country’s economic ills,” Hontiveros said.
“The Duterte administration must not allow the economic slowdown to turn into an open economic crisis. Our people, especially the poor, will suffer the most. Huwag naman sana pati ekonomiya ng bansa ay matokhang (Let not our economy be victimized by the strategy of the Duterte administration’s bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign) ,” Hontiveros added.
To help the public meet the challenges posed by slower economic growth and untamed inflation, Hontiveros proposed the following:
1. Halt and repair the runaway Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (Train law Halt further taxes on fuels mandated by the Train law until inflation is brought under control Use the excessive revenues generated by the Bureau of Internal Revenues (BIR) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) from high-priced fuels in the past months to finance the widening and strengthening of the safety nets. Additional support must be provided to poor families with more members, especially those earning less than the minimum wage — these do not benefit from the reduction in the personal income tax.
2. Shift in rice policy Lowering the price of rice has to be the priority of policy through a shift from quantitative restrictions to moderate tariffs if necessary, but certainly with more timely imports even under the present regime. This must be done while providing protection to and ensuring the competitiveness of Filipino farmers.
3. Speed, speed, speed There must be “speed, speed, speed” in the government’s “build, build, build” program, even as we judiciously scrutinize the loans that were acquired for the said big-ticket infrastructure projects. It must also prioritize the hiring of Filipino workers. With trillions of pesos worth of infrastructure projects, they can create thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Special focus on infrastructure spending in irrigation can also quickly help address the high cost of domestically produced rice.
4. Wage increase The state must help workers receive a higher take-home pay to increase their purchasing power. With the unforeseen rise in inflation, wages must be responsive to today’s economic reality.
5. Cash transfer to all 10-million poor families Ensure that the poorest 10-million Filipino families receive the government’s unconditional cash transfer (UCT managed by the Department of Social Welfare and Development), regardless if a family is a beneficiary of the social pension scheme for senior citizens or not. Bigger families deserve to be compensated to a greater extent and it would be unjust if there will be those belonging to the poorer half of the roughly 20-million Filipino households who are denied the unconditional cash transfers.
6. Cut the Value-Added Tax (VAT) The government should certify as urgent the passage of Senate Bill No. 1671 otherwise known as the “Bawas VAT” bill to provide relief for the lower economic deciles of the population affected by the TRAIN law by lowering the existing VAT rate to 10 percent from the current 12 percent.
Hontiveros cited a Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) report that the country’s GDP was slower than the 6.6 percent in the first quarter and 6.7 percent in the second quarter of last year. Economic experts said that GDP was weighed down by sky-high inflation, which jumped to 5.7 percent in July, well above the government’s target.