Villafuerte backs up DU30 move to cushion Russia-Ukraine conflict

March 6, 2022 Ryan Ponce Pacpaco 350 views

CAMARINES Sur Rep. LRay Villafuerte has given his full backing to the comprehensive action plan that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte had approved to strengthen the domestic economy, stabilize food supplies and prices, and provide social protection to vulnerable sectors in a bid to stem the fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Villafuerte backed the set of initiatives that President Duterte green-lighted at a Palace meeting he called last Tuesday to take up the Russia-Ukraine conflict, particularly the launching of the second stage of the “Plant, Plant, Plant’ program of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to boost farm productivity.

“I fully support Malacañang’s fresh efforts to ramp up farm productivity—and help stabilize the supply and prices of rice and other essential foodstuff—by raising budgetary support for the DA’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant” program,” said Villafuerte, who had strongly supported the first phase of this farm-friendly program.

“‘Plant, Plant, Plant” Part 2 and the other measures announced or approved by the President during the March 1 meeting at Malacañang would address the global supply chain disruptions resulting from the Russia-Ukraine conflict along with the costlier freight expenses and higher agricultural input costs arising from the now rocketing prices of petroleum products,” Villafuerte said.

Villafuerte has separately lashed out at energy officials for the almost two-year delay in the establishment of the planned strategic petroleum reserve (SPR), which, he said, could have helped stabilize local fuel inventory at this time when the Ukraine crisis has driven oil prices from about $90 per barrel just recently to the current Brent and West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rate of $116.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar was reported as saying that President Duterte had directed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea Jr., Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III to look for funds for “Plant, Plant, Plant,” after the Chief Executive approved during the March 1 Palace meeting a P24-billion outlay for the second phase of this DA program.

According to Dar, the DA’s original proposal was for an extra allocation of P8 billion, but it was increased to P24 billion after President Duterte said he wanted a higher budget, especially for fertilizer subsidy.

Aside from ‘Plant, Plant, Plant” Part 2, Cabinet Secretary and acting presidential spokesman Karlo Nograles revealed in a press briefing that the President issued other directives during the March 1 meeting to boost local production.

These included increasing the rice buffer stock to an equivalent of 30 days’ national consumption, distribution of financial aid to palay growers, grant of fertilizer subsidies to farmers and transport cost subsidies for basic commodities, and provision of logistical support such as mobilizing food from top-producing regions to cities via Kadiwa mobile vans and trucks.

On his watch as House deputy speaker for finance, Villafuerte co-authored in 2020 House Resolution (HR) No. 925 affirming the chamber’s commitment to pass a supplemental budget for the DA for the recovery of the agriculture and fisheries sector from the havoc wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

HR 925 was passed by the chamber just two days after President Duterte, in his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA), championed the DA’s ‘Plant, Plant, Plant” program and sought congressional approval of “this P66-billion agricultural stimulus package that will help the agriculture and fisheries sector recover” from the outbreak of Covid-19.

Prior to President Duterte’s SONA support for ‘Plant, Plant, Plant, Villafuerte had already pushed a “re-prioritization” of the then-proposed 2021 General Appropriations Act (GAA), with a hefty part of the annual budget going not only to infrastructure and social services but also to agricultural development—“with the long-term goal of attaining sufficiency in rice and other basic foodstuff in the post-pandemic scenario.”

“Alongside ‘Build, Build, Build,’ the Duterte administration needs to likewise put ‘Plant, Plant, Plant’ on the front burner to best prepare the country for the ‘new normal’ once the pandemic spawned by the lethal Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) has been contained,” Villafuerte said in May 2020.

“While rebooting the President’s centerpiece infrastructure modernization program would enable the economy to stage a quick recovery as soon as the pandemic is over, giving top priority as well to agriculture development would boost farm output that would, hopefully, make the Philippines self-sufficient in rice and other basic foodstuff in the long run,” he said.

Villafuerte said “ensuring the country’s food and nutrition security has acquired greater urgency with the current commodity supply uncertainties and price volatilities driven by Russia’s war on Ukraine.”