AT SONA: Gameplan for recovery sought

    Needing attention. Agriculture stakeholders hope the SONA would be a venue to highlight that food supply is crucial during the pandemic. (Photo by RHOY COBILLA)

    President Duterte should present his gameplan for the rest of his term starting with a recovery program for the economy now reeling from the devastating impact of the new coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

    Ahead of today’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Duterte, businessmen over the weekend threw in their wish list for the administration as it enters its fifth year.
    Francis Chua, chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, said businessmen want to hear a candid assessment of the COVID-19 situation in the country and how the government will balance between the needs of the economy and efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

    “Assuming the vaccine is ready, does the government have the budget to make it available to the entire population? ,” said Chua, who is also director of international affairs of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

    PCCI, the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP) and the Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. (Philexport) in a joint statement said while health-related initiatives to tackle the COVID-19 crisis should be prioritized, a clear strategy for economic revival should also be outlined during the President’s SONA.

    Fight for MSMEs

    “He has to spell out the agenda of the government for the next two years,” said Chua, a message echoed by the business groups which said such agenda should ensure the country’s recovery and save micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) fighting for survival amid the pandemic.

    Chua said government should also help large borrowers which are similarly affected by the economic slowdown.

    “What can government expect from private sector to help in addressing the unemployment? ,” Chua added.

    PCCI, ECOP and Philexport said COVID has sidetracked and delayed some of reforms that it has now become more urgent to “work double time” to enact economic measures in various stages of Congress and executive implementation.

    The groups communicated their wish list to Duterte in a letter signed by Benedicto Yujuico, president of PCCI; Edgardo Lacson, chairman of ECOP; and Sergio Ortiz-Luis, Jr., president of Philexport..

    The groups called for the passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act (CREATE) which “will help attract investments and create significant and favorable impact on the cash flow” of recovering MSMEs as well as of Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy and the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus bills “which will provide fresh impetus to keep the economy afloat and positioned for a solid economic rebound.”

    Among the priority executive reforms they want implemented are the National ID system; TradeNet, farm/fishing areas-to-market roads and agri- and aqua-culture infrastructure in the Build Build Build priority projects among others.

    RE, agri underappreciated Advocates of renewable energy (RE) meanwhile anticipate an update of Duterte’s previous order for the energy department to look into further reducing the country’s dependence on coal power.

    Redentor Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities, said before the pandemic, top energy officials were considering a moratorium on new inflexible baseload technologies like coal which was creating grid instability in Luzon.
    Gerry Arances, executive director of the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development, is managing expectations because Duterte was earlier quoted as saying electricity from coal will remain crucial for the country.

    “We hope the President will discuss wide-ranging reforms such as immediate power relief for consumers, renegotiation of onerous contracts with power suppliers, inclusion of renewable energy electrification as a key aspect of COVID-19 recovery plans and the review and amendment of the Electricity Power Industry Reform Act,” Arances said.
    Agriculture stakeholders said their sector has always been underappreciated SONA or otherwise.

    Danilo Fausto, president of the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. (PCAFI), said aside from the value chain disruptions caused by the pandemic, smuggling remains a problem.

    Raul Montemayor, national manager of the Federation of Free Farmers, echoed the same sentiments of PCAFI.

    “We are not very optimistic that anything significant for agriculture will come out of the SONA. While food security had indeed become a focus of attention due to the pandemic, most of the government’s interventions have gone to social amelioration and very little has been accorded to farmers and agriculture in general. In fact, agriculture was among the main victims of the pandemic and it took time before government was able to resolve the problem about transport of food,” Montemayor said.

    Emil Javier, chairperson of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines, said that another agricultural issue that needs to be resolved soon is the 28-year delay in the release of the coco levy funds.

    Equities analysts’ take

    “We expect him to report on the pandemic and (the government’s) plans moving forward… a concrete decision to prevent the continued rise in cases,” said Astro del Castillo, managing director at First Grade Finance Inc.

    But Del Castillo said the priority now is the economy, as he noted the need for the legislative to buckle down to work for the passage of bills such as CREATE that would help the economy bounce back fromthe pandemic.

    For Luis Limlingan of Regina Capita ad Development Corp., the market wants to hear a well laid-out plan to address the pandemic and how to help affected Filipinos and businessmen get back on track.

    Limlingan said this plan should be geared towards helping MSMEs and addressing unemployment. — (Irma Isip, Jed Macapagal, Ruelle Castro)