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THINK TALK: The 2024 National Expenditure Program and Agriculture Sector

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MATALAM, North Cotabato (MindaNews / 19 August) – A budget proposal of the national government to be enacted by Congress into the General Appropriations Act (GAA) is called the national expenditure program (NEP).

Secretary Amina Pangandaman of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) personally presented the 2024 proposed budget to Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez of the House of Representatives on August 2, 2023. The DBM prepared a P5.768-trillion budget proposal for 2024 which is 9.5-percent higher than the 2023 GAA.

The 2024 budget proposal represents 21.7 percent of our projected gross domestic product (GDP) for next year. As usual, the big chunks of the budget shall go to education, public works, and health in that descending order.

As claimed by the budget’s proponents, the 2024 national expenditure program is generally responsive to the 8-Point Socio-Economic Agenda of the incumbent administration. These are categorized into three: strengthening the purchasing power of the people, reducing vulnerability from the pandemic, and ensuring sound macroeconomic fundamentals.

This means that the spending priorities of this administration shall be guided by the 8-Point Socio-Economic Agenda, which comprises food security, improved transportation, affordable and clean energy, health care, social services, education, bureaucratic efficiency, and sound fiscal management.

Through the 8-Point Socio-Economic Agenda the Marcos administration aims to bring down poverty to 9 percent by the end of his term and bring the country to “upper-middle income” status by 2028. The government also projected an 8-percent increase in our GDP by 2028.

While education, public works, health, energy and digital connectivity are on top of the list, agriculture and fisheries seem to be relegated to the background. The negative growth rate posted by this sector in 2022 should have reminded this administration to raise it high on the socio-economic agenda, not to mention the fact that the President himself sits at the helm of the agriculture department.

Food security, though, is one of the 8-Point Socio-Economic Agenda, and this is not something new. This has been in every President’s socioeconomic agenda every now and then, but we have not been achieving strides on this one.

Food security means the poor man’s table is assured of food supply at the time he needs it. There may be enough food supply per capita but if this is not accessible to the poorest of the poor families, there is no food security for them. Only food for the rich and middle-income families are secured. 

Why can’t agriculture, for once, get the biggest share in our national budget? Obviously, food security has become a good political commodity as it is pleasant to the ears.

The other thing that “food security” should address is to minimize, if not totally do away with, food importation. Rice and onion are our top food imports. There is nothing wrong with that if that is the only way to balance local supply and demand, otherwise, if supply is way down below the demand level, that will catapult the price of rice and onion to a level beyond the reach of the ordinary masa. 

What is wrong is when these food essentials are smuggled by unscrupulous businessmen. That would hurt both the local producers and government in terms of uncollected revenues. Despite the fact that the government is bent on running after the smugglers and hoarders, they seem to persist. This is an indication that smuggling these food items (rice and onion) is a lucrative business.

If we are to cut the budget somewhere and realign to agriculture to enhance the production of rice and onion, how do we do that without compromising the 8-point development agenda of this administration? There is a feasible source. We know that there are billions of pesos allocated to the AFP modernization program and intelligence funds lodged in different agencies of the government. These are good sources of funds that could be realigned to the agriculture sector.

Between national security and food security, there is no doubt that the latter is more primordial. At the pace the AFP modernization program is going, China does not give an iota of respect to our defense capabilities. The AFP modernization program is painstakingly slow, not to mention the fact that it is rigged with anomalies in the procurement process. Assuming that the AFP modernization program is faster and better this time, we are still very dependent on the U.S. in case of a shooting war with China. This, of course, is quite remote considering the reality that no country on earth has ever dared to challenge the United States of America.

While Russian top military brass used to bully the U.S. by saying “Remember Vietnam,” the U.S. may retaliate by saying “Remember Afghanistan,” a country which Russia ravaged in a decade of occupation (1979-1989) but forced to leave after a strong guerrilla-type resistance was put up by the Afghans and openly supported by the U.S.

Back to the problem of the supply of rice and onion. What boggles the mind is we import rice from countries like Thailand and Vietnam which used to learn from us on rice production technology and protection. In the 1960s and 70s, these and other Asean countries had trained at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Banos, Laguna under Filipino experts.

Philippine agricultural production contributes less than one percent to our GDP, while Thailand’s agricultural production contributes six percent to its GDP. Thailand is the world’s largest exporter of tapioca products, rubber, frozen shrimp, canned tuna, and canned pineapple. Our top exports from the agriculture sector are animal by-products such as processed fats and their cleavage products. Surprisingly, it is not tuna or banana.

Say that again, Mr. President: “We hope to bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo”.

Already, we are seeing a presidential campaign promise going down the drain.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school. He can be contacted at mauganmosaid6@gmail.com).

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