Dominguez: Fear of food shortage driving up prices

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez downplayed fears of food and oil shortages amid the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine as Malacañang said it would redouble efforts to tame the rapid increase in consumer prices with headline inflation rising to 4 percent in March.

ECONOMIC MANAGERS MEET. The Philippine Economic Briefing held at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on Tuesday draws Cabinet men (from left) Acting Presidential Spokesman Martin Andanar, Agriculture Secretary William Dar, Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez, Executive Secretary Salvador C. Medialdea, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin E. Diokno, Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez. Norman Cruz

“There is no shortage of commodities, fuel, corn, or wheat,” Dominguez said during Tuesday’s Philippine Economic Briefing 2022.

“It’s the anticipation of shortages that is driving up prices. It’s affecting us negatively but we are confident since our agriculture production in the Philippines, particularly for staple food, is constant, especially rice. We have to manage that very well,” he added.

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Russia is among the top producers of oil while both Russia and Ukraine are exporters of wheat, which is milled into flour.

“We think as the year goes on, prices of commodities [will] start moderating downwards,” Dominguez said.

Acting presidential spokesman Martin Andanar, for his part, said inflation quickened in March because of the “upward trend in transport, gas, other fuels, among others.”

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“Our economic managers continue to keep a tight watch over inflation as it hits 4 percent in March 2022. Having said this, we will not relax in our efforts and will work twice as hard to address the national issue of higher prices,” he said.

March’s 4-percent inflation rate was faster than the 3 percent recorded in January and February, National Statistician Undersecretary Dennis Mapa said in a press conference.

Mapa said food and non-alcoholic beverages; housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels; and transport are the main contributors to the faster inflation in March.

Average inflation for January to March 2022 settled at 3.4 percent, Mapa said.

The latest headline inflation is within the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP)’ forecast of 3.3 to 4.1 percent.

For his part, Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, said that while the 4-percent inflation remained within the target range, the government must expand and hasten the release of subsidies to help Filipinos cope with rising prices.

“It’s at the cusp of breaking the target range, so it should definitely be treated as a trigger for more government action to provide relief,” Salceda said.

He said the government should “expedite promised relief, including the targeted cash subsidies announced by President Duterte.”

“In any case, the House is ready to provide the necessary appropriations cover, or the necessary policy support. Whatever they need to get this done faster,” Salceda said.

“While I expect some slowing down or even month-on-month disinflation in oil prices this April, the prices will still be high,” he added.

For his part, Agriculture Secretary William Dar said a higher budget should be allocated for agriculture to ensure food sufficiency.

Dar said the DA’s P85 billion budget was only about 1.7 percent of the total national budget.

Other ASEAN countries’ agriculture budget is around 4 to 5 percent of their national budget, he said.

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