Last of two parts
After dealing with China-US frictions, extremist violence, and crime, contraband and corruption kingpins in Part 1 two days ago, pondering economic growth and disaster preparedness may seem far less daunting and not as deadly. It isn’t, especially for households feeling the squeeze — losing jobs, going hungry, and facing calamity.
Two drivers of gross domestic product expansion — remittances from overseas Filipino workers and property development — have slowed. Besides dampening GDP growth, the twin slowdowns mean less spending money for families depending on OFWs, and not as many construction jobs. Already, condo sales have been dropping since 2012.
Other developments would further burden indigent families. The global commodities slump has cut fuel costs, but also farm and mining earnings, with gross value added in agriculture down 5.1 percent or P62 billion last year. GVA in palay, corn and coconut fell a combined P80 billion. And mining value added is down P22 billion.
And the slump isn’t expected to lift much in the years ahead. Rice, corn and vegetable oil export prices aren’t forecast to increase by much till 2019. Copper may see a bit more recovery, but the bad news is the projected surge in oil to around $70 a barrel from $41 at present for OPEC crude, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
That means the cost of living would escalate even as countryside incomes slow down with OFW remittances and farm and mining earnings.
Worried yet? In fact, there’s more to fear for the poor and the next government addressing their needs and burdens.
Disaster unpreparedness and unrecovery
Remember Yolanda, Pablo and Sendong? And the Bohol quake? Most Filipinos have largely forgotten those calamities and their thousands of victims, and so have officials and entities tasked with recovery, it seems.
The Commission on Audit’s 2014 report on just one agency, the Department of Interior and Local Government, cited woefully scant utilization of the DILG’s Yolanda recovery fund, with first semester projects only 42 percent completed in 2014, and no second semester rehab done because funds were released one year late in June 2015!
As for Bohol recovery, the COA report recounts: “Of the 1,079 projects with Bohol Earthquake Assistance (BEA) fund allocation of ₱2.413 billion, only 12 with a total cost of ₱3.139 million were completed as of December 31, 2014, due to delayed downloading of fund by the Bohol Provincial Government to the municipalities.”
Why did the province take so long to disburse the money? Many reasons, to be sure, and one of them has to be the lack of capacity building in disaster response and management among local government units.
Back in 2014, soon after Yolanda, state auditors already cited lack of achievement in this area by the Office of Civil Defense, as mandated by the 2010 National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act. And in its DILG report a year later, the COA had much the same comment:
“The utilization rate of the ₱114.410 million total allotment (continuing and current appropriation) for “Enhancing LGU Capacity on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management and Climate Change Adaptation” was only 18.82 per cent due to lack of relevant disaster preparedness plan.”
Sadly, communities that suffered calamities in earlier years are probably not surprised by the Yolanda and Bohol inaction. A leading clergyman in eastern Mindanao said that government assistance for areas flooded by Typhoon Pablo in 2012 still do no have proper homes and adequate livelihoods.
So whoever will move into Malacañang on June 30 had better get and give a full report on disaster readiness and recovery programs. Plus implement laws mandating a billion-peso-a-year agency to boost disaster readiness and response, and projects under the billion-peso People Protection Fund to safeguard vulnerable communities.
Otherwise, when the third, fourth or fifth anniversaries of past calamities come around and when new ones happen, guess who gets blamed for poor response and rehab.
The rice challenge
The third concern with nationwide social impact is rice. To ensure ample supplies in this El Niño year of possible droughts and floods, the National Food Authority rightly authorized 2 million tons of rice imports. That’s double the shipments in 2012-13.
Here’s the concern, however. Worldwide rice cultivation and harvests are both down, with milled production lower by 12 million tons for 2015-16. Thus, global stocks for the period are forecast to dwindle to 89.7 million tons — the lowest since the 2007-08 rice price spiral — with unprecedented worldwide consumption of 484 million tons.
In this rice situation, the President taking over amid the rainy season in June should watch certain factors. One is the level of NFA stocks, which should be ample enough to address temporary supply problems due to weather, and to counter possible hoarding and profiteering during those disruptions.
Key question: Since private traders handle most importations, does the government control enough grain for ample market clout, as it did in beating hoarders back in 2008?
In assessing NFA market clout, also consider smuggled rice, which of course are in private warehouses. At the same time, a crackdown on contraband may impact rice supplies and prices, by squeezing illicit shipments and charging them the 50 percent tariff now being evaded.
And pray there is no repeat of the 2009 Ondoy-Pepeng floods, which devastated the country’s main rice crop in September. If that happens even at a lower intensity, the NFA’s ability to mobilize supplies and keep rice affordable would be tested even more.
Plainly, a full report on grain stocks, imports, output and consumption should be given priority. As any Philippine leader knows, a rice shortage is a political nightmare.
The economy, calamity and food challenges all demand a proper transition between the current administration and the next. In 2010, the incoming Aquino regime declined the outgoing Cabinet’s offer of coordination meetings, with disastrous results during the Luneta hostage crisis two months into the new dispensation.
For the nation’s sake, may the present and future regimes not make that fatal mistake.
(The first part on security and law and order threats was published on Thursday.)