PCCI: Food stamps alternative to wage hikes

Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president George Barcelon

Food stamps can be a more sustainable alternative to proposed wage increases as companies remain vulnerable to economic challenges post-pandemic, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president George Barcelon said Thursday.

“The value of a food stamp per month — to avail of a food basket — could be similar to or higher than the proposed wage hikes. The difference is we don’t know how workers spend their wage increases,” Barcelon told the Daily Tribune.

He said food stamps are an assurance that people will be using them for beneficial purposes.

“These will translate into economic gains as there will be more healthy Filipinos participating in business activities and children more energetic in schools,” he added.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said last Monday the government could tap the Asian Development Bank for food financing.

In April, ADB approved a $4-billion loan program for the Philippines this year to fund its transportation, healthcare, and agriculture projects.

For the food security of developing countries in the next two years, ADB also announced in September last year it would offer their governments $14 billion.

Social Welfare Secretary Rex Gatchalian said the food stamps’ pilot period could start in July.

He added officials will be coordinating with the Department of Agriculture to source food items from its Kadiwa stores which cater to less privileged consumers.

Filomeno Sta. Ana III, cofounder of Action for Economic Reforms, agreed the government must carefully study the food stamps program to determine whether it is sustainable or a long-term solution to poverty.

“The concept or intention might be good but the design matters. I’m afraid that if not designed properly and implemented well, it might just be a band-aid solution,” Sta. Ana said.

Agricultural officials, he said, must ensure food supplies are sufficient to maintain affordable food prices.

“We must first ensure the accessibility of cheap nutritious food. If domestic supply is insufficient, we have to import,” he said.

Sta. Ana, however, said workers’ wages must also be raised to truly free many Filipinos from poverty and reduce reliance on the government that has other numerous obligations to the entire nation.

“Further, food security is done by increasing the incomes of our people. So, a combination of growth, employment and income, and food productivity reforms must be put in place. Over time, these strategic interventions will reduce in-kind and cash subsidies to households.”

Similar to the high volumes of rice imports the country receives, Sta. Ana said the government must also provide a lot of job and skills enhancement opportunities to the poor to upgrade their lives.

“The rice tariffication reform can serve as a model. Even as we allow imports to alleviate supply problems and hence lower food prices, we must enable agriculture to become more productive, efficient and competitive,” he said.

In a survey by the Social Weather Stations, 10.6 million Filipinos believed they were “food poor” in the first quarter of this year amid high inflation and food supply issues.

That figure was higher than the 8.7 million people with the same sentiment in December last year.

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