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Marcos puts focus on economy in first Cabinet meeting

PHILIPPINE President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said his government would strive to limit imports, even as the prices of basic goods continue to soar.

The new Philippine leader made the statement after he held his first Cabinet meeting that heavily focused on the economy earlier in the day.

Mr. Marcos said his administration would rather boost local production than rely on importation to address an impending food crisis, vowing to significantly increase the output of rice and corn.

“We will do it in the Department of Agriculture to boost the production of rice and corn in the next two quarters, until Christmas,” he told a televised news briefing. “We prefer not to import. We prefer to import as little as possible.”

Still, the Philippines would still import pork due to tight local supply as the hog industry is still recovering from African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, Mr. Marcos said.

Mr. Marcos said they “were not able to cover everything” during the Cabinet meeting. He asked his economic team to lead the meeting by giving an overview of the country’s current economic situation, based on a video streamed live on Facebook.

“We can all understand that the most important area that we will have to deal with will have to be the economy,” he told his Cabinet. “The central policy that everybody else would be following will be that set out by our economic managers.”

The economic team is composed of Finance Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Felipe M. Medalla, and Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio M. Balisacan.

Also present during the first Cabinet meeting were Education Secretary Sara Z. Duterte-Carpio, Interior Secretary Benjamin Abalos, Jr., Social Welfare Secretary Erwin T. Tulfo, Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra, and Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez, among others.

“We don’t want anyone out of a job at this point,” Mr. Marcos supposedly said when asked by his Cabinet members to rationalize the government’s workforce to save funds, based on Mr. Tulfo’s Facebook post.

Mr. Marcos inherited a record amount of debt from his predecessor, which experts said might push the government to reduce spending. The government is expected to implement austerity measures and find ways to increase its revenues to address its ballooning external debt.

“The goal is not to reduce the debt but to increase growth to a level sufficient to pay for the debts,” said Leonardo A. Lanzona, who teaches economics at the Ateneo de Manila University. “Expenditures have to be properly allocated to projects with high returns.”

Also, Mr. Marcos said the Cabinet discussed ways to improve government services “so it would be easier for the public to do business with the government.”

“We are also trying to streamline the government so its function is better, its function is much more efficient. I want to make sure that every department, every agency has already the plan in mind so that our Cabinet secretaries are coordinated with each other,” the President said.

“Let’s get our bureaucracies streamlined. I said you’d have a relatively free hand in deciding who you want to hire and how you want to change the structure of your department if that’s what you want to do. But do it soon.”

Mr. Marcos, 64, faces economic problems worsened by the soaring prices of basic goods.

During the media briefing, Mr. Marcos seemed to have disagreed with the 6.1% inflation recorded last month.

“We are not that high,” he said, without elaborating. The data was released by the government’s statisticians.

“Unfortunately, it looks like we may cross that threshold, tatawid tayo sa 4%,” Mr. Marcos said when asked to comment on the June inflation. “We have to think about interest rate levels. But there’s a conflicting force in [foreign] exchange rate levels.”

June inflation accelerated to 6.1%, above the central bank’s 2-4% target range. Year to date, inflation averaged 4.4%, mainly due to higher prices of food, utilities and transport.

“The forces that have pushed commodity prices up are beyond our control. Much of our inflation is imported,” Mr. Marcos said, referring to the spike in global commodity and oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war. “It’s inflation on products that have suffered inflation that we import.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza

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