Budget Secretary promises inflation, prices will get better by August

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 6) — Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno assured the public on Wednesday that inflation and the prices of basic goods would be more manageable by August this year.

He told CNN Philippines' The Source that the inflation rate was gradually decreasing. It hit a five-year record high last month, when it posted a 4.6 percent rise from the same period a year ago.

"In March, it increased by 0.7 [percent]. In April, 0.2, and in May, 0.1," said Diokno, referring to inflation rate increase from month to month. "So we're very optimistic that in the second half of the year, it will go to our target."

The May inflation rate of 4.6 percent, as well as the year-to-date figure of 4.1 percent, have breached government's target range of two to four percent inflation rate for the year. But it is at the lower end the 4.6 percent to 5.4 percent inflation forecast for May by the central bank just days before the official figures were released.

"It will look better not necessarily next month, but towards the second half of the year -- August pababa [onwards]," Diokno said. "Next year, mag-istabilize iyan [it will stabilize]."

His comments come amid public clamor for relief from the rising prices of basic goods, with the spike in fuel excise taxes under the government's reform program rolled out in January partly to blame for increased costs.

Congress is considering proposals to suspend the fuel excise tax hikes by amending the tax law, which currently contains provisions that hinder an immediate halt. Some of the proposals include using an inflation cap as basis for suspension, and giving the President the power to suspend the law.

Rep. Dakila Cua estimated that only about 2 million out of 10 million families have been given assistance through unconditional cash transfer.

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"Iyon po ang kinukulit natin na sana bilisan na, kasi pinangako niyo iyan sa amin na iro-rollout lahat sa taong bayan," Cua told The Source in May.

Diokno admitted that the government had shortcomings in providing for beneficiaries, attributing the delay to a change in the leadership of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

"Nagkulang iyon [We fell short] in effect. But we're fixing it," he said.

Diokno said that recent figures show 4.4 million have already received assistance. Those who have not will receive it by July at the latest.

"Three million, yung mga indigent seniors, will get it before the end of the month. The rest, 2.6 million, will get it… by the end of July," said Diokno.

The Budget Secretary maintains that there is no stopping tax reform without sacrificing big ticket projects, such as the administration's infrastructure program Build, Build, Build, and free tuition for state colleges and universities. He added, "These are short term pains for long term gains."

Diokno: Controversial family budget is only 'for illustration'

Diokno also remarked that a controversial table provided by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) was only "for illustration purposes."

The NEDA pegged that a family of five needed P10,000 a month as a bare minimum budget. It also estimated that only P3,814 was needed for food and non-alcoholic beverages.


It broke down necessary expenses on food to P959 for rice, P625 for meat, P574 for fish, and P260 for vegetables.  This amounted to P2,418 in a month, or P80.60 a day.

The example caused uproar online, with many netizens saying that the government was out of touch with conditions on the ground.

Diokno said that the figures could have been derived from the United Nations' definition of poverty. The United Nations's Sustainable Development Goals defines extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day.

When pressed on whether the numbers were realistic, Diokno answered, "Ask the NEDA."

Watch the full interview with Diokno here.