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Monday, March 4, 2024


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“High oil prices plus high food prices are a deadly cocktail”

In his first SONA, the President declared in very firm tone that he wanted the huge bureaucracy right-sized.

Right-sizing means having an organization that is both service-effective and cost-efficient. If we were in the private sector, it would mean getting the best returns for every peso spent.

Thus, every government employee should be doing work commensurate to his pay grade.

Yet in the first year of this administration, it seems the palace itself has been violating the President’s first SONA dictum, part of a 19-point legislative agenda.

“Expenditure priorities will be realigned, and spending efficiency will be improved…,” he began, and the first in his legislative proposal, met with loud applause, was for a National Government Right-sizing Program, “that seeks to enhance the government’s institutional capacity to perform its mandate and to provide better services, while ensuring optimal and efficient use of resources.”

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The President further explained that “compared to previous government reorganization efforts, the NGRP will entail a comprehensive strategic review of functions, operations, organization, systems and processes…”

Was there a mention of the progress of the NGRP in the second SONA? No.

Has the palace in the performance of the president’s appointing power, complied with the president’s first SONA dictum? No.

Recently, online publication Politiko exposed the top-heavy bureaucracy of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), with 10 undersecretaries and 21 assistant secretaries.

This USec list does not include those attached agencies headed by USec-ranked officers, such as the NACC, NCIP and NAPC, the last two having been down-graded from salary-grade 31 to 30 recently.

To be fair, Sec. Rexlon Gatchalian did not ask for top-heavy assistants, having inherited the officials from his predecessor, now party-list congressman Erwin Tulfo, on top of career service officers with the appropriate CESO entitlement.

Gatchalian brought in only one USec and two ASec-ranked personnel when he took over the department, but was swamped with Malacañang-appointed officers, with the latest one a Mindanao political family’s scion, appointed just last week.

One USec-ranked official is related to a senator. One USec is also related by affinity to another senator. Another is a cousin of a congressman.

Relationship with high officials is not per se a disqualification, but former secretaries like Alma Jose, Cabral and Soliman were not saddled with much baggage yet the department functioned quite well.

Go through the list, and even at first glance, with their “pilit na pilit” titles, you can glean who are “undersecretaries for nothing.”

To be sure though, some of the USecs and ASecs are quite effective in their work, especially the career officers who have been there since PGMA’s time and who bring experience and institutional memories to the job.

One Asec, a journalist who was brought in by Tulfo and was retained by Rex has been quite effective, especially in explaining DSWD’s pro-active relief work.

I underscore this bloated and top-heavy bureaucracy after reading the Politiko expose, which it described as “Execs baggage” to demonstrate how the President’s pronouncements are violated by his own office.

USecs get a basic pay of P189,199 monthly at salary grade 30 (PFRM Jr. is Grade 32), while an ASec is grade 29.

Apart from basic pay, they get additional emoluments such as RATA, and other benefits. They are given service vehicles, with free fuel and a driver to boot.

It should be quite interesting also to look at the department’s DBM-approved staffing pattern.

How many are plantilla employees and how many are contract workers or job-order employees, and what is the ratio of permanent to contractual?

You will be astonished.

But then again, the practice of overloading the bureaucracy is true in almost every department and agency of government.

National Government Right-sizing Program. Words, words, words only?


The President, after seeing for himself the destruction wrought by the rains in Northern Luzon, rued its impact on our rice supply, stating further it is now imperative that we import our staple food.

The decision comes too late.

NFA warned him three months ago that government supplies were down to just about a day’s consumption, when ideally, as we enter the monsoon season, there should be 30 days supply or in the area of rice tarrification, where the supply is handled by the private sector, at least 15 days.

This column wrote about that Malacañang meeting in the middle of May.

The President and the economic managers did nothing, hoping that the summer harvest, where the price of palay was as high as P23 to P24 in Central and Northern Luzon, was assurance enough till the major harvest in September/October.

Now that India has banned rice exports other than the pricey basmati, and Thailand and Vietnam have increased their price to around $500 per ton, up from May’s $430 along with export volume limits, we could be in serious trouble.

If Egay and Falcon did not make landfall in Luzon, but brought much rain and flooded our food baskets in Regions 1, 2, 3 and the Cordilleras, think of the incalculable damage it wrought on the farms of China where Egay made landfall, and Falcon is on its way to making another.

China’s rice import requirements will certainly go up.

And who do you think the giant will go to for its rice needs?

Why, Indo-China, of course.

The cross-border trade between China and Vietnam will flourish immensely with both socialist governments looking the other way.

Last Monday, I wrote we could be looking at P50 per kilo come the “ber” months, double what Kadiwa prides as release price, which we collectively subsidize to the tune of a P13 loss per kilo.

Oil came in with its own hefty pump price increase, along with LPG. And even our energy spokesperson says the price is likely to go further upwards.

High oil prices plus high food prices are a deadly cocktail.

Take note: 50 percent of our price index is accounted for by food price movements, with rice as its principal component.

Oil prices impact on most every item in the basket, from transport to production costs.

Even if the government allows imports now, and as we write this article, the President is meeting his agriculture officials, the Viet and Thai sellers will demand much, much more.

Fifty pesos per kilo by the last quarter of this year may even be an under-estimate.

To the teeming poor, that would be a disaster.

As for those who can afford more than P50 per kilo, easy availability of desired varieties would become more difficult.

For the very rich, there’s always Calrose or the local Dona Maria, both priced at about P100 per kilo.

The rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “are different from you and me.” Aside from having more money, they eat less rice.

PAG-ASA warns us that there should be 11 more typhoons before 2024 barrels in. Pray these do not hit us when harvest time comes.

Farmers of Northern Luzon, even the Mindoro provinces which bore the brunt of the floods brought by Egay and the habagat rainfall sucked by Falcon, are now hard put to re-plant their inundated palay fields.

Assuming DA supplies them with seeds and other inputs, they would be devastated if stronger typhoons hit in September when the palay is pregnant with grain, or October-November when they are about to harvest their delayed crop.

Huwag naman sana.

The good Lord gave us rain after a sweltering summer, with the capital region experiencing rations of tap water from Angat.

Pray He does not give us stronger typhoons as El Niño arrives.

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