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Often secret

/ 12:14 AM October 22, 2015

For all we know, the Aquino (Part II) administration might have prepared a comprehensive plan on how to deal with the cyclical drought called El Niño, perhaps easing the pain that it would inflict on us.

It is just that, as of last week, the plan still seemed to remain a closely guarded state secret, and nobody could really tell what the administration intended to do.

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Yet according to our weather bureau Pagasa, the cyclical weather phenomenon already started a couple of months ago, and it would possibly last until the middle of 2016.

Other weather experts abroad also predicted that the drought in huge portions of the Philippines, brought about by the El Niño phenomenon, could rank as one of the worst droughts in the country in the past 65 years.

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The last severe drought brought about by El Niño happened way back in 1997-1998, during the time of former President Ramos, which actually led to the critical rice shortage that caused the wholesale removal of top government officials.

At that time, as the price of rice went up to somewhere in the vicinity of another planet, there were near riots in the streets.

Now, based on press statements from our economic planning agency Neda, the Aquino (Part II) administration, this time around, should nevertheless be in a better position to deal with El Niño.

The administration simply would have a lot of money.

Well and good—we all know that the drought already wreaked havoc on huge tracts of farmlands in many parts of the country. The business sector has warned the public about severe food shortage as a result.

From what I gathered, however, it seemed that our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, had yet to see the supposed “action plan” prepared by his Cabinet working group to lessen the impact of the disastrous drought on food supply in the country.

Food shortage certainly would lead to skyrocketing prices that, in turn, could mean trouble in streets, and this kind of political strife—involving the masa—would be bad news to the candidates of the Aquino (Part II) administration in the 2016 elections.

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According to a recent survey done by Pulse Asia, the top worries of the public that could become big issues in the 2016 elections were inflation, wages and corruption.

In reaction to the survey, the Palace boys noted that the inflation rate was low, citing some well-researched figures from the Bangko Sentral, which were of course what the business sector always knew just as “headline” inflation.

In other words, according to the Palace boys, the public was wrong or stupid or misguided in worrying about inflation.

Studies done in the private sector nevertheless showed that the low “headline” inflation hid the fact that food prices had recorded the biggest increases over the years, which of course could only punish the bottom 30 percent of the population.

Here is the unpleasant fact: Food accounted for an extremely significant 70 percent of the weight of the inflation rate for the bottom 30 percent of the population.

In short, the resulting rise in food prices, as a result of the shortage in production due to El Niño, would hit the poor the hardest.

Reports said the Cabinet working group on the El Niño was only set to submit its “action plan” to our leader BS about two weeks ago.

To think, the weather bureau Pagasa and other El Niño experts have been warning us since the start of the year about the severity of this El Niño, saying that it could break all records on intensity and duration.

But let us say that the rather delayed “action plan” reached the attention of our dear leader, BS. The question would be how fast could the administration carry it out, considering that it would be very busy with the 2016 elections.

Just how protracted the decision-making could be in the Aquino (Part II) administration, was already an open secret in the business community.

It took the administration more than five years, for instance, to come up with its list of infrastructure projects under the PPP program. Again—it was just a list!

Meaning, all those hundreds of billions of pesos worth of infrastructure were only a “wish list” that would still have to undergo the tedious process of approvals by various offices under this laidback administration.

And only then could the various executive departments package them for public bidding that almost always would entail controversies and further delays caused by all the vested interests.

Yet this was the PPP program, billed by the Aquino (Part II) administration at the start of the term of our dear leader, BS, as the “showcase” of private sector and government partnerships in all of Asia, and perhaps the whole world.

As for the El Niño problem, according to the Neda, the administration would at least have the money to back up its action plan.

Truly, the administration’s budget for 2015 already amounted to P2.6 trillion. In 2016, an election year, its budget would increase by P500 billion to reach P3.1 trillion.

The question nevertheless remained: What actions would the administration take, precisely, to mitigate the harsh effects of El Niño?

From what I gathered, the administration would readily use its huge budget for various kinds of “dole out” to farmers that would lose their income due to the drought.

Well, this administration already distinguished itself for having the world’s biggest dole-out program that it called “PPP,” already amounting to more than P300 billion during its six-year term.

Any form of dole-out, whether to the farmers or to the consumers, precisely as a way to ease the impact of El Niño, worried the business sector, because it would only create runaway inflation in the face of food supply shortage.

In fact, we already suffered a rather painful decline in rice production last year.

And so it seemed that the administration had yet to implement its plans, if any, to address the mother of all problems: food production.

Just recently, for instance, in his meeting with barangay officials, our dear leader, BS, said his administration found it hard to pursue infrastructure projects because the country no longer had enough space for more infrastructure.

By inference, this administration perhaps believed that it already did so many infrastructure projects that we hardly had any space for more, although of course the location of those projects was also top state secret.

Really, who among his boys fed him such a lie?

Nobody could say for certain whether or not the barangay officials believed him, but the administration could certainly find all the space that it would need to pursue irrigation projects to raise food production in this country.

Based on official figures, the Philippines had some 10 million hectares of farmlands, and World Bank estimated that some 6 million hectares of those could be irrigated.

The last time I checked, this country had irrigation systems for only about 1.6 million hectares. The government irrigation system moreover accounted for even less than half of the irrigated farmlands.

With the six-year term of our dear leader, BS, already about to end, just how many additional hectares of farmland were irrigated by the administration, also remained a top state secret.

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TAGS: Aquino administration, Benigno Simeon, El Niño, El Niño phenomenon, Pagasa
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