Press Release
January 31, 2023


SENATE PRESIDENT JUAN MIGUEL "MIGZ" F. ZUBIRI: Maganda po ang meeting kagabi kasama ang economic managers ng Presidente. Nandoon po ang full economic team: Sec. Ben Diokno, Sec. Mina Pangandaman, Sec. Arsenio Balisacan, BSP Governor Felipe Medalla, National Treasurer Rosalia De Leon, and all the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries of the economic team. And together with us were 15 senators: myself, Sen. Joel Villanueva, Sen. JV Ejercito, Sen. Mark Villar, Sen. Sonny Angara, Sen. Nancy Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, Sen. Pia Cayetano, Sen. [Win] Gatchalian, Sen. [Bato] Dela Rosa, Sen. [Raffy] Tulfo, Sen. [Robin] Padilla, Sen. [Jinggoy] Estrada, Sen. [Bong] Go, and Deputy Minority Leader Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

So ito ay preliminary meeting lang, and we're asking mostly preliminary questions. And the details of these discussions will be tackled tomorrow in the committee hearing. Meron pong committee hearing headed by Sen. Mark Villar tomorrow morning.

So together with us was Congresswoman Stella Quimbo and she helped answer questions from the senators. Kasi syempre 'yong version nai-file ni Sen. Mark Villar ay ang House-approved version and siya po 'yong nag-sponsor doon sa House of Representatives.

What was discussed yesterday was the Maharlika Investment Fund. It will be the first-ever sovereign wealth fund of the Philippines, to promote - according to our economic team - it will help promote economic development by making strategic and profitable investments in the key sectors. And it is intended to support goals set in the Medium Term Fiscal Framework, 'yong Eight-Point Socio-economic Agenda, at 'yong Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028. Accordingly, from them, this fund is a tool, among many, to diversify the country's financial portfolio, which includes our existing institutions, in pursuing investment opportunities, such as LandBank, DBP, and BSP.

According to them, tinanong po natin, of course, best practices among other countries, ang sabi nila, most - about 80 to 90 percent - of the sovereign wealth funds of other counties have been successful. Of course, there have been some bad eggs in this particular sector, there are some sovereign wealth funds that didn't do well, but they compared us to what is happening now in Indonesia. Because the Indonesian sovereign wealth fund is healthy.

Indonesia pumped up its economy, as matter of fact, it is part of the "VIP". There is a "VIP" acronym, which is Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines, in terms of the "darlings" of Southeast Asia. So among Southeast Asian countries, iilan na lang po ang walang sovereign wealth fund. And it's supposed to generate inter-generational benefits...They are also looking at royalties from extracted natural resources, such as mining, that can be accessed for future generations. And of course, they are looking at funding coming from their main sources, which is LandBank at P50 billion, 'yong DBP at P25 billion, 'yong BSP daw, according to them, will be less than P17 billion na mako-contribute daw sa MIF. And they are also looking at Pagcor, at 10 percent gross income of Pagcor; that's about P6 billion, according to Pagcor authorities last night.

Tinitignan din po nila ang pagkukunan ng pondong ito ay selling of some state assets, and the examples na binigay po nila ay ang pagbebenta ng Caliraya at Pulangi Fort - ito ay mga hydroelectric power plants ng bansa - so they are trying to get the best prices for these hydroelectric power generation facilities, and privatize it, and the fund will be going to the Maharlika Investment Fund.

The use of the funds will be for the increase of investments of big-ticket infrastructure, green and blue projects, countryside development, employment-generation projects, such as railway systems, energy, regional agrarian industrial hubs, for example, cold storage plants, etcetera, etcetera. Ang importante daw dito, the returns have to be bigger than the safer investments, like bonds, the usual, kung saan pinaglalagyan ang pondo ng BSP, LandBank at DBP. Kaya dapat mas malaki ang kita dito sa paglalagyan ng pondong ito. And that's why they are looking at utilities, services such as railways, highways, and tollways para sa ganoon, kumita rin ang pondong ito.

We also want to ensure, kasi, tinanong din namin ang accountability, and, of course, hindi lamang accountability, kundi 'yong transparency ng mga transaction. So they guaranteed, under the version passed by the House, and Cong. Stella Quimbo also affirmed this, and we'll be doing perfecting amendments in the Senate, they assured us that the House passed the highest standard of accountability and fiscal responsibility and good governance. Measures have been placed in the bill of the House to help safeguard the funds. There will be an internal auditor assigned, as well as the Commission on Audit. So double auditing procedures will be followed. The internal auditor will be one of reputable background, of course, internationally-known accounting firm. So they're looking at internationally known companies. So the funds will be in good hands.

In terms of the selection of the fund management group, there will be a criteria kung paano nila pipiliin itong mga ito. Kailangan, unquestionable reputation, they've been in the field of finance for a long period of time. They're asking us to exempt the fund management group from the Salary Standardization Law kasi syempre hindi naman kaya ng SSL 'yong binabayaran sa top-level economic managers, so kailangan ma-exempt d'yan sa Salary Standardization Law. So, iyan ang mangyayari dyan, and of course, meron din tayong oversight committee na sisilip kung saan ba talaga nila nilagay itong mga pondong ito, karapat-dapat ba ilagay ang pondo diyan sa mga investments na' yan. So, 'yan ang pinag-usapan naming kagabi, and almost all of the senators asked questions. The most important questions were: Is the fund needed this time? Where will the funds be taken from? And how it will be allocated? And will there be safeguards to protect it from mismanagement or corruption issues?

Q: Sir, did the briefing help allay fears of the senators, therefore, making faster the process of approving the bill?

SP ZUBIRI: Well, I don't - what happened last night was more preliminary in nature. I think the nitty-gritty will be in the committee hearings, kasi sa committee hearings mag-iimbita tayo ng iba't ibang sector, eh. At 'yong sa iba't ibang sector, syempre, ilalabas nila 'yong favorable or unfavorable response. There might be certain sectors na might be against it, andthere might be sectors that are in favor of it. We'd like to listen to all sides, and more questions will arise.

Definitely the economic team can only answer questions that are within their realm or within their powers, kasi ang sagot nila palagi sa amin, "At the end of the day, kayo bahala po, Mr. Senator...Kasi batas 'yan, eh. So aamyendahan niyo 'yan. Hindi naming masasagot ang final terms dahil until you pass the law, we cannot answer in finality what the conditions are." For example, on the selection process, kasi the Senate might make it stricter, so hindi pa talaga masasagot 'yan with finality. But they can give us general terms, when we ask them, "Is it due time?" Kasi 'di ba, kalalabas lang natin ng pandemic, we just came from, not a recession, a drop in our GDP, during the pandemic, when we have the full lockdowns. Ang sagot nila, the GDP growth of 7.6 percent year in, year out, last 2022, they feel that we are now in recovery, we're recovered from the pandemic - iyan ang sagot nila, that's on record - that we have recovered from the pandemic and we are out to achieve a 6 to 7 percent growth rate for 2023. Meaning ang kailangan na lang nilang gawin, pababain 'yong inflation rate, para sag anon, mahabol 'yong GDP rate, dapat ma-overtake-an ng GDP rate para sa ganoon ay talagang mararamadaman ng taong bayan 'yong paglago ng ekonomiya. So they say it's time.

Q: Is it safe to say that as far as the Senate is concern you still need to hear form the economic managers and additional evidence that is will succeed?

SP ZUBIRI: My instruction to Sen. Mark Villar, to Dr. Mark Villar, is that he shold give time to all sectors. In other words, huwag niya madaliin ito. In my opening statement yesterday ay nagpasalamat ako sa Pangulo, dahil si Pangulo mismo ang nagsabi nah wag madaliin ito. Dahil maraming aspeto ang kailangan natin tignan and he wants to make sure that the fund sources are there. He wants to make sure that the management team, are quality managers that will be chosen in very strictest way possible. He wants to make sure that there are safeguards in place so hinid ito pang one hearing lamang. Hindi ito pang two hearings or three hearings. So I suggested to Sen. Mark that he should conduct weekly hearings all the way until the break and then he can probably craft a committee a reports before the break on the end of March. That way we can study the committee report. He could either sponsor it before the break or he can sponsor it after we get back after the holy week break and have a full debate on the issue. Alam naman po ni President ang timeline he is acceptable to the timelines. We in the Senate will not rush this measure and will make sure that all points are covered to make sure na wala tayong pagkakamali.

Q: Sir can we say that this will still be a priority?

SP ZUBIRI: Yeah it is a priority of the chamber because the President has asked us to make it a priority in terms of legislation. It will probably be taken up in the LEDAC in the next LEDEC. But what is important here is kase may tanong kahapon si Sen. Robinhood Padilla, ang sabi ni Sen, Robin ay, Baka naman pumalpak itong pondo na ito at baka naman lumagpak din ang ating ekonomiya. Ang sabi ng ating mga fund managers... he was saying na a fund that will handle about P100 to P150 billion is not enough to make a dent in our economy. In other words, of course sisiguraduhin nila na walang mangyayari sa pondong ito, but hindi po nila maipapangako sa atin dahil alam mo kung magkaroon ng global economic crisis, kung matuloy ang Gyera sa Russia at Ukraine and all of the sudden it spills all over to Europe we'll never know and all of the sudden all these markets closed down and we havea global recession. Syempre may impact din sa atin yun and all of our investments. But they are saying that the fund is no enough to put a dent on our economy and they still guarantee that the way it's going now ang trajectory ng ating ekonomiya ay tuloy tuyol ang pag ganda ng ekonomiya natin despite headwinds from international, external forces. Sabi nila we'll be okay. We'll be okay. (on the exact statement of Sec. Diokno) So ang sabi niya (Diokno) ang Economy natin is a P19 trillion economy, so a P100 to P150 billion economic fund will not make a big enough dent to put us in recession.

Q: Names on who will comprise a shortlist of names who will handle the fund?

SP ZUBIRI: That's a good question. Wala unfortunately nobody asked that particular question and it all depends also on the final version of the bill. On how they will be vented out paano ang criteria nun. So who knows they might say for example sa bill lalagyan mon a bawal yung incumbent economic managers, you have to get from the private sector so that takes out a number of names right now in the economic team. Or kung sasabihin natin na exemted yugn economic managers lahat na pwede, their names can be put back. So until we finalized the bill, I can't really give you particular answers.

Q: On passing the MIF bill

SP ZUBIRI: In terms of passing it all depends on the chairperson Mark Villar on how he will deliberate it. We work on a committee system kailangan maganda diskarte ni Sen Mark Villars a pag explain nito not only in the committee level but also in the plenary. To be able to get 13 votes. But marami naman ay perceptive. There's a lot of Senators who are perceptive to the idea of the Maharlika Investment Fund. So kagabi ang maganda dito marami ang nalinawan. Sa mga katanungan ng mga senador, yung pinag-uusapan naming sa lounge na medyo nagkakaproblema sila sa particular provision. Nag dududa sila sa pangangailangan ng ponding ito. A lot of those were answered last night, but I don't it is enough for us to come up with a proper, I'd say, outcome of this particular issue. We still need the committee hearings, because in the committee hearings, we will ask each sector. For example, may katanungan ako kahapon. I asked, will this be in anyway competitive to private sector endeavors? Ang sabi nila yes there is possibility. Kase you have to remember the Maharlika Investment Fund will be given tax perks. They're going to be tax exemptions to all the transactions. So I asked Sec Balisacan, who used to be the head of the National Competition Commission, would there be times that they will be competing with the private sector. Sabi niya yes. Ang Sabi ko paano yun? Ang sabi niya hindi naman sila exempt, yung MIF would not be exempt from anti-competitive practices. So nasa ilalim pa rin yung MIF sa National Competitive Commission. So still could be a complaint. For example, lalagay sila ng tollway, diba ang tollway bini-bid yan or bi-nivent out yan sa ibat-ibang private sector companies at papasok itong wealth fund na ito, it would be undue advantage for the wealth fund kase government entity yan eh. So sabi nila pwede pa din mag complain ang private sector. These are the questions I wanted to ask in the hearing with the for example Philippine chamber of Commerce, with the companies that are doing public utilities, kase pwedeng pasukan nitong wealth fund. But in the end of the day this gives government leeway, bigger hand to invest in companies or projects, programs that would not ordinarily be allowed by governmental regulations and laws. So At least meron silang free hand.

Q: So SP wala itong assurance na 100% papasa yung MIF House version dito sa Senate?

SP ZUBIRI: We will propose a lot of perfecting amendments to the House version. Meroon pa nga silang galing sa House na gusto i-amend. So it's a work in progress. That's what I would say. The MIF is a work in progress that House version is a good base to discuss and to debate on and we will of course give out perfecting amendments. We appreciate though si Ma'am Stella yung mga sagot niya kahapon kase nag bibigay liwanag siya sa ibat-ibang provision ng batas.

Q: Explain why it is not in the State of the Nation Address? It was never included in the Medium-Term Fiscal Framework and it was not mentioned in the first LEDAC?

SP Zubiri: Because it was all discussed after that. According to the President, it was all discussed after the LEDAC and SONA. This came about in their first few travels when they went to Singapore, and when they went to a couple of meetings. New York, dun nila pinagusapan. Tapos na yung LEDAC nun. Tapos na yung SONA nun. I think in the next LEDAC, we will be tackling this as a priority measure.

Q: Pagdating doon sa source of funding, hindi nila kinoconsider ang privatization PAGCOR and PCSO? According to Franklin Drilon, around P300 billion ang magegenerate ng privatization ng PAGCOR at PCSO.

SP Zubiri: Personally, sang-ayon ako dyan. Ang problema lang dyan, remember there are several laws that were passed in previous Congresses kung saan nila kinukunan ng pondo ang PAGCOR. For example, sports. 5 percent yata ng income ng PAGCOR will go to sports... Philippine Sports Commission. Yung social fund ng pangulo dyan galing sa PAGCOR. The biggest chunk of PAGCOR's revenues go to philhealth. Every year yan, they contribute to about P40 to P50 billion to the Universal Health Care Law. Kasama dyan ang HPEP, yung pagmodernize ng equipment ng ating iba't ibang public hospital. Yan ang problema. Kapag pinrivatize natin ang PAGCOR, wala na tayo pagkukunan every year. That will be a problem. That has to be started carefully.

Q: Economic managers nagmake ng ecomomic projections for the next two years. They say the MIF would be crucial in achieving those targets.

SP Zubiri: Yes, do you feel that it will help achieve those targets? And they will only put it in big ticket items that would have impact to the people. In terms of bringing down costs, kasi for example, ang gusto nila power generation, they say in Nuclear Power Plant, for example, ako yan binanggit kahapon, they would bring down the cost of electricity. Yan ang gusto nila, may impact sa tao... na makakatulong sa tao. Kasi right now, yung investible funds ng DBP, ng Landbank, it a very soft income monetary projects or programs.

For example, bonds, money market na ang income mo dyan ay less than 1 percent per annum. Maliit. Eh di ba yung growth ng ating population, particularly with all these developments now, we need to increase the income of these goccs.

Q: What did the economic managers said on the reported changes in the House version. Where did it come from? Did it come from somewhere?

SP Zubiri: Some ideas are okay, some ideas are sound. For example, the Maharlika Investment Fund, pinagusapan din namin, na may posibilidad na makainvest ng foreign funds. Let's say Temasek of Singapore wants to invest, they can. But it's going to be a bigger, accordingly, if we write the bill well, it has to be this type of funds. Yung malalaking funds. Hindi pwedeng, Juan dela Cruz maglalagay ng 1 billion pesos dun. Syempre magtatanong ka kung saan galing ang ponding ito. No, it's going to be only from these known, of course, reputable foreign funds that are already in circulation around the world.

Q: Sa didiscuss ng Senate, is it a sovereign wealth fund? Is it investment fund?

SP ZUBIRI: SWF kasi is really the common name for all these funds. It's called sovereign wealth fund. So, it is like a generic term used by all countries. In the Philippines, it would be packaged as Maharlika Investment Fund.

Q: Will the Maharlika fund be sourced from pension funds?

SP Zubiri: Wala na. We will not touch it with a 100-foot pole. No pension funds will be touched for this endeavor. Not at all. We will not agree. The House already - Cong. Stella Quimbo said that they will not touch it with a 10-foot pole, the Senators will not touch it with a 100-foot pole. Out of the question na yan. Talagang ito lang, mga investable funds lang. Yung Landbank, sabi nga ng Landbank, sabi ni Cecille Borromeo, they have, ang reserves nila umaabot ng P2.1 trillion pesos. Ang ibibigay lang nila sa Fund is only P50 billion so it's a small dent in their reserves.

Q: Will the Fund surely pass in the Senate?

SP Zubiri: Hindi naman. They're (Senators) still excited to listen to the hearings kasi ibat-ibang sektor pa yan. Siyempre, we will not just listen to one side. Titignan natin yung ibang sektor. Kung sumasangayon naman ang karamihan dito, na makikita po natin na maganda ito sa kaunlaran ng bayan, ituloy natin. Matutuloy ito and I think it will get the number of votes required which is a majority vote on this particular issue.

Q:Will a continuous hearing be a challenge?

SP Zubiri: Tomorrow is our first hearing. Hopefully, tuloy-tuloy po iyan. My suggestion to Senator Villar is: "Do the economic managers tomorrow." Para on record during the committee hearing, mailabas yung nilabas kagabi na mga impacts to our economy, possible sources of funds, etc. His succeeding hearings should be sectors, then he can invite the PCCI and all the private sector groups on one hearing and on another hearing maybe oppositors, the possible oppositors para marami po tayong pagkukunan ng information that would guide us during the plenary debates once he finishes his committee report.

Q: Personally, of 100 percent, nasa 80 percent supporting ka na of the Fund?

SP Zubiri: Me? My vote would depend on the final outcome of the committee report, but I am in favor. You can say that I am in support of this particular measure especially after last night dahil marami akong tinanong sa kanila at maganda naman po ang sagot ng economic managers. Ang balik nila sa amin: "Kayo na po bahala Senate President kasi kayo ang gagawa ng final version ng bill at kung may kailangan pa kayong ilagay na safeguards, lagay ninyo na." Payag naman sila.

Q: Is there anything to the absence of some of your colleagues (in the briefing last night)?

SP Zubiri: I have no clue. Buti nga ginawa ko na dito kasi ang plano nila sa Manila Hotel. Ang problema, kung sumibat kami dito papuntang Manila Hotel baka lilima nalang ang pumunta doon. Kaya ginawa ko na dito kasi sabi ko, andito na tayo kaya after session diretso na. That's a lot. 15 members to join a briefing that is not an official Senate activity. I think that is a good number of Senators, I'm happy.

Q: How about yung nine (senators that did not attend the briefing)?

SP Zubiri: I dont know where they were. They were all informed.

Q: If you will make the choice, would you rather that no government appointee will be joining the Maharlika Fund?

SP Zubiri: You mean a government bureaucrat? Personally, I would rather get from the business sector. Yung walang masamang reputasyon. Credibility is unquestioned. His track record is - importante diyan is track record because it is an investment fund and not too many government bureaucrats are into the business of investing funds of the Filipino people, diba? Yung government bureaucrats taga pondo ng taong bayan hindi tayo nagiinvest or namimili ng mga stocks o ano. We have to get a reputable person. There are many Filipinos. Maraming investment bankers diyan na magagaling na pwede natin i-tap. That's why we have to accept them from Salary Standardization, kawawa naman. He is earning probably P1 to 2 million a month tapos ilalagay mo sa MIF, babayaran ng 100,000 a month, sinong papayag nun? Wala papayag. We have to come up with a good salaries for these people.

Q: What are your concerns with the bill, if any?

SP Zubiri: We only asked general points. Ang gusto namin tingnan yung bill kung ano talaga ang safeguards kasi ang sabi nila doon: "We guarantee that safeguards are in place." Hindi naman nila binanggit kung ano. Yan ang ididiscuss natin bukas sa hearing. Ang daming gustong magtanong, there's 15 Senators. We will have to give a time limit. Hindi naman masasagot lahat o matatanong lahat. Bukas malalaman natin kung ano yung mga safeguards, anong criteria para sa hiring of fund management team for the MIF. Ika nga, that's the meat of the issue that will be discussed starting tomorrow.

Q: Kung ilalagay ang fund sa mataas ang return, obviously, mataas din ang risk. Was it discussed last night?

SP Zubiri: Mataas nga yung risk but according to the economic managers, the advisory board will make sure that the investments are assets na hindi malulugi. In other words, kapag binili nila ito, tinayo nila ito, you can only go up rather than it can go down. For example, infrastructure, toll ways, gagawa sila ng kalsada - hindi naman bababa yung value ng project na yan. It can only increase. But you will be earning every year from the toll collection sa mga areas na ito. Bridgeways for example, connection from Iloilo-Guimaras to Negros, may tollway yan. Ang income diyan, pupunta sa investment fund. These are long-term infrastructure programs that will help jumpstart the economy. This will also be in line with PPPs. Pwede din sila mag co-invest sa Private-Public Partnerships.

Q: Naliwanan na ba kagabi, with finality, that the President, BBM, will not in any way participate in the management of the MIF?

SP Zubiri: Yes, wala na po. Tinanggal na po natin na ang Presidente ang mag-head ng Advisory Board. It was initially in the House draft version. The President will no longer be involved in this. Although the President has the power to remove members of the Board kung may katiwalian, or issue ng mismanagement pwedeng tanggalin ng Presidente.

Q: How about appointments?

SP Zubiri: I do not want to guess. I want to look at the criteria kasi baka naman parang JBC yan. I'll give you an example: Yung Judiciary Bar Counsel, you'll get the top 15 names and maybe the President can choose from the top 15 names. That will be fully vetted by the Advisory Board. Maybe that is the setup. I want to see it and I will be asking about it tomorrow.

Q: Did you meet with the President last night? What was discussed?

SP Zubiri: Part of it is we discussed the MIF. We also discussed the RCEP. Ang sabi ko naman sa Presidente, ang RCEP, I want to put it on the floor but may concerns pa kasi si Sen. Imee Marcos and Sen. Marcos is the chairperson... (inaudible; end of recording)



Q: On agricultural smuggling

SP Zubiri: We are pushing her to bring it out as soon as we can. Ang sagot naman niya sa akin ay magkakaroon pa siya ng isa pang hearing to discuss issues on agriculture kasi may, siyempre may (unclear) may concern siya for the agri sector pag RCEP. But I have to put on record, we're the only country who have not ratified the RCEP. Lahat ng ikot ng Presidente, bukang-bibig ng mga bansa na yun bakit hindi pa kayo nakapasok sa RCEP, which is basically good for our manufacturing, for our exports, for our semiconductors, so that we can export it out (unclear) these countries, there are over a dozen countries in the region that are already in RECP. They are really trying to push us to ratify. And so, we just need to make sure that there are safeguards in the agri sector. But I am in total favor of the passage of RCEP.

Q: I understand meron din siyang concern about sa smuggling and (unclear) a continuous investigation?

SP Zubiri: Yes. Ang problema kasi, kinausap ko si Presidente about that, sabi ko, "Mr. President, your sister, your ate, is requesting na sana may mahuling smugglers". Ang sabi niya, kung sa huli, kaya niyang magpahuli, pero ang problema, they want to make sure that maganda yung case files, or dapat yan ay may sapat na ebidensiya. Kasi kung hindi, huhulihin mo nga, after a few days, maa-ano din siya, makakalaya din ang smugglers. Pero ako, I agree with Sen. Imee Marcos, that smuggling now of agricultural products is considered as economic sabotage. So, therefor, dapat hulihin talaga ang mga smugglers na yan. And price manipulators. Bakit naman, katulad niyan, all of a sudden, yung garlic, umabot ng ilang daan? I think P400 yung garlic.

Q: Onions...

SP Zubiri: Hindi, tapos na yung onions, kagabi garlic naman, sa news. Nanonood ako sa inyo, sa GMA at saka sa TV5 at sa ABS-CBN. Pinapanood ko yung lahat ng network. Meron nang issue about garlic, na tumataas. Mas mura yung garlic sa Taiwan. The Taiwanese garlic was only less than P100 per kilo, yung local was P400, yung native garlic. Bakit naman biglang tumaas ng P400 yung garlic? That means, parang may nag-usap-usap lang na grupo na mga traders na namimili doon sa north, na itaas naman natin yung presyo ng garlic kasi pababa na yung presyo ng onions. Kaya wala, napipilitan si Pangulo na mag import. Ako, magsasaka din ako, by occasion and by profession. Kailangan, dapat may presyo tayo para sa ating mga produkto na kung saan masaya kayo, masaya din ang taong-bayan. Hindi pwede na kabig ng kabig lamang para sa ating mga magsasaka. They have to come up with the sweet spot, ika nga, where it is affordable for the people, at the same time, happy pricing. As I said, makakabayad na po kayo ng mga utang ninyo pagdating po sa mga magsasaka at may kaunting kita pa. Pero wag yung predatory pricing, yung two months ago, it was only P100, tapos naging P400, paano nangyari yun? And that is when the DTI should step in. The DTI should step in on the suggested retail prices, and it should be them who will say, "uy, itigil na yan, yung pricing na yan, predatory pricing na yan, nagsasamantala na kayo sa taong-bayan, kawawa naman yung taong-bayan. That is why the President's hands are tied. Ako po, farmer ako, gusto kong tulungan ang ating mga magsasaka. Tulungan natin sila 100 percent pero at the same time, wag nating pagsamantalahin itong mga price increases na ito. May nagsasabi kasing inflationary, itaas din natin ang presyo natin para sumabay tayo sa inflation. Kawawa ang taong-bayan because, I guarantee you, if you buy it in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, yung garlic, I am sure, napaka mura doon. I am sure, baka P80 lang yun per kilo, P100, pagbaba dito, P400. Sino naman ang nagpatong ng P300 additional doon sa presyong yun? So, I appeal to the DTI, to double-time its job on making sure that the prices of these basic commodities are in check. As a matter-of-fact, bukas, may hearing sa Commission on Appointments, nay hearing si Sec. Pascual, and again, I will ask him that. Prices of eggs, prices of garlic. Why is the price of eggs so high? Wala naman tayong bird flu, wala naman tayong epidemic around the Philippines that are killing our chickens. Marami akong kaibigan sa Mindanao, tinatanong ko sa kanila, ganoon na ba kamahal ang presyo ng itlog? Sabi nila, sa Metro Manila lang, sa Luzon lang yan. Sa amin dito, mababa pa rin. In Mindanao, the price of egg is still at P4-P5, dito almost P10. Bakit naman ganoon? Ano ang nangyari in the last few months to curtail a price increase of 100 percent?

Q: You think something should be done to control the issue of price manipulators? Kasi ang tagal na noon di ba?

SP Zubiri: Oo nga. I believe that there are certain laws, retail laws that we passed already in previous congresses that would answer that problem. Pwede silang multahan, pwede silang kasuhan, pero gusto kong...kaya I am sure I share the frustration of Sen. Imee Marcos and Sen. Villar na walang nakukulong na mga smugglers, walang nakukulong na price manipulators. Dapat makulong itong mga ito. Kaya, the President's hands are tied. He has no other choice but to import, when we cannot control the prices on the ground. Kasi, you have to look at the greater good of the people, which is all of you.

Q: Is it too late for the Philippines to invest in agriculture?

SP Zubiri: No, it is not too late. I strongly believe in the plan of the President, to invest heavily in the agri sector. Alam mo, ang problema din natin, mga kababayan, we are blessed with 22 typhoons a year, to say it in a nice way, but ang malas talaga natin, na like clock-work, there is no less than 22 typhoons. If you look at the alphabet, in the last part of 2022, and then tingnan ninyo, sobra sa 22 typhoons ang tumama sa Pilipinas. Yang mga bagyo na yan ay nagbibigay po ng napakalaking problema sa ting mga magsasaka. So, you're, the agri sector head, di ba napaka frusatrating? Ang dami mong binigay na tulong sa nga magsasaka, for example sa Central Luzon, tapos may papasok na bagyo, apat o tatlo taon-taon. Bagsak ang iyong mga produkto, bagsak, sira, wasak ang inyong mga agricultural products. So, that is why we cannot recover as fast as our neighbors. Wala masyadong ganyan sa Cambodia, sa Laos, sa Vietnam, sa Thailand. We are hit by these calamities, number one. Number two, we have to look at production. We have to increase our production, because, eventually, we have to compete in the global market. It is not fair na napakamura ang presyo ng pagkain sa Thailand, napakamura ang presyo ng pagkain sa Hong Kong, sa Indonesia, sa Singapore, sa Taiwan, tapos dito sa atin, napaka mahal. It is not fair for the Filipino people. So, we have to break those barriers, we have to come up with more Kadiwa Centers. Para yung mga presyo ng bilihin doon sa farm gate price (unclear) sa Kadiwa, napakaliit lang yung ilalagay na mark-up, para sa ganoon, affordable ang ating pagkain. Tatanggalin na dapat natin yang mga traders. We should come up and support more cooperatives. Sa Korea, the number one groceries in Korea are owned by farmer's cooperative, so, lahat ng produkto nila, diretso na sa kanilang mga groceries, na all over Korea, makikita ninyo ang pangalan, nakalimutan ko lang ang pangalan nung grocery na yun, but it is owned by a farmer's cooperative. So, we have to come up with out-of-the-box solutions para matulungan natin ang magsasaka, the hell with these price manipulators and hoarders, dapat kasuhan natin sila lahat o ikulong, and smugglers, and let's help our farmers. But at the same time, let's appeal to our farmers, na tulungan ang gobyerno and government should also help the farmers, na magkaroon sila ng access to market. Para sa ganoon, yung presyo ay napakaganda. Hindi po siya nadadagdagan nitong mga traders na ito na napaka mahal.

Q: When you were with the President, nabanggit po ba yung pangalan na Martin Araneta, kasi may nagbabanggit na (unclear)…

SP Zubiri: We did not discuss names.

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