Joey Salceda on inflation: Prices of rice, fish won't go back to old levels

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 8) — Prices of some food items will no longer revert to their previous levels and this may result in more people joining those below the poverty level, a lawmaker said Monday.

"May mga bagay po na hindi na babalik sa dati. [Tulad ng] bigas, kasi parang nakabuilt-in ang inefficiency," Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, House Economic Affairs Committee vice chairman, told CNN Philippines' The Source. "Hindi ako naniniwala na mapapabalik mo na ang presyo ng isda. Yung vegetables, kaya pa kasi short gestation."

(Translation: Some things won't cost the same anymore. [Like] rice, because the inefficiency is built in... I don't believe that we can bring back the price of fish. We might be able to for vegetables, because they have short gestation.)

Salceda, an economic manager during the Arroyo presidency, is now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's point person for counter-inflation measures.

He said inflation, which hit another nine-year high in September, is "a national concern" which could affect the lower 30 percent of the population the most.

"For every ten percent increase in food prices... dadagdagan ng 2.48 million [below the poverty line]," said Salceda. "Lalo na yung nasa borderline, they will fall off the ledge... Ma-wipe out ang gains in the past three years."

(Translation: For every ten percent increase in food prices... there will be another 2.48 million [below the poverty line]. Those on the borderline especially will fall off the ledge... Our gains in the past three years will be wiped out.)

Salceda said the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law caused inflation to rise by 1.1 percentage points. September inflation was at 6.7 percent, and Salceda estimated it would have been at 5.6 without TRAIN. The law raised taxes on fuel and sugar-sweetened beverages.

However, the lawmaker is against suspending excise taxes imposed this year as it raked in ₱47 billion. He said given high prices in the world market, the second tranche of fuel excise tax on Jan. 1, 2019 would not be carried out based on TRAIN provisions.

He added government should prioritize providing income assistance and hunger mitigation measures for the poor.

"I'd rather increase the budget," said Salceda. "Kaya na i-augment ang unconditional cash transfer. I-target mo ang small fishermen, senior citizens, mga nagpe-pension."

[Translation: We can augment unconditional cash transfer. Target small fishermen, senior citzens, and those on pension.]