Press Release
July 24, 2023

Transcript Senate President Migz Zubiri
24 July 2023
The Source

Q: Tell us what is the state of the nation after 1 year after the Marcos presidency?

SP MIGZ: I said I gave him an 8 out of 10, and they ask me, Why? Because he is a hardworking president. I have to say he's up early in the morning, he goes around, he does his inspection of projects and programs, and he listens. In many occasions, he asks us for advice on particular issues. He knows that I am an agricultural expert, well, not an expert, but that's my field, he calls me once in a while to ask me for suggestions and my opinions on particular programs under his department. He is the concurrent Secretary of the Department of Agriculture. So I gave him an 8 out of 10 because he's trying his best amid all these external factors: the war in Ukraine, yung pagtaas ng presyo ng bilihin, pagtaas ng presyo ng pagkain. Itong nangyayari sa Ukraine ay talagang nagpabigat sa ating mga kababayan both local and internationally. The State of the Nation Address, if you ask me, is sound at the moment. We are having 6.5 growth rate, possibly higher by the end of this year, 7 to 7.5 GDP growth rate. We are the darling of the World Bank and the IMF when it comes to their estimated GDP growth for this year, 2023, and we are good as well for 2024. When we say darling, they are only looking at the Philippines and Indonesia, coming up with positive growth rates for the end of the year and possibly next year. We are trying to reach an 8 percent GDP growth rate by the middle of his term and become a middle-income economy by the middle of his term. So, number wise, napakaganda. Of course, may mga problema pa din tayo. We still have high inflation rates at mahal pa rin po ang bilihin. We still need to work on bringing down the prices of electricity, prices of water, prices of fuel and of course, ang clamor ng mga kababayan natin, ay itaas ang sahod sa private sector. So, there are lots of factors still that he has to work on and we are ready and willing here in the Senate to help him.

Q: When media asked that, and you gave a grade of 8 out of 10, what is your opinion now, is it still the same?

SP MIGZ: Absolutely, it is still the same. We met last week for the signing of the Maharlika Investment Fund. He was upbeat and telling us his plans and possible programs and projects for the Maharlika Investment Fund, which I think are phenomenal projects, which will help boost our economy. Hopefully today, we will get a better direction of the Maharlika Investment Fund and possible projects, which I think are phenomenal projects that will help boost the economy. Hopefully today, Pinky, we will be able to get a better direction on the use of the Maharlika Investment Fund. I'm sure he'll draft possible projects para makita ng mga tao ang papasukin ng Maharlika Investment Fund. Today, I'm looking forward to listening to his plans for the future, particularly this year in the field of agriculture, being the concurrent Secretary of Agriculture. We are also interested in looking at major infrastructure projects that are lined up, not necessarily for the Maharlika Investment Fund, but by the DPWH, the DOTR, Pinky. You know, the DOTR needs a lot of support, and a lot of prodding because we still have problems with the transportability of our people, the traffic jams are still there, EDSA is still clogged--it's a big parking lot, it's scaring away a lot of investors so we have to work on synergy on that. How we can prop up tourism? We all know that the Tourism Department [has been] controversial in the past few weeks, so we have to figure out, at least, get the direction of where we want [to go] for tourism, because tourism in many countries are huge income generators for their economy, so the Philippines as well should tap on tourism as one of the top sources of growth and development.

And so we want to hear that from the President today in that direction. But looking at this past year, I think we have done pretty well. Politically, it's been quiet. Alam mo, Pinky, sa ibang bansa katulad ng Thailand ngayon, hindi pa sila nakakahalal ng Prime Minister, weeks after the elections, kasi ayaw ng military rulers yung mga nilalabas na kandidato. Wala po sa atin yan sa Pilipinas. I'm glad to brag about this, that we are a stable democracy in the region. We have a stable transfer of power every six years. I think that's one of the reasons why people look at the Philippines as a great investable destination.

Q: There was a survey recently asking about the most urgent concern of Filipinos. Number one is inflation. In terms of that, what do you want to hear and what should government do to be able to control inflation para matulungan ang ating mga kababayan?

SP MIGZ: In simple terms, kailangan natin mababa ang presyo ng bilihin, ang presyo ng bilihin sa merkado. Number one of course is food--pagkain. Hindi ba po, we passed the Rice Tariffication Law, we're still trying to figure out, we still ask the same questions, why the prices of rice are still high because, under the Rice Tariffication Law, there's no hindrance in bringing rice from Vietnam, Thailand, that are supposedly cheaper in these countries. But, ang presyo ng rice, hindi pa bumababa, as far as I know--P40 per kilo. It should be hovering around P30 to P32 per kilo. We have to get to the bottom of this. Of course we have to increase assistance to our local rice farmers because nothing beats local production, kasi hindi mo na kailangan i-ship yan galing sa ibang bansa. Wala nang handling, wala nang tolling, etc. We have to increase the production of our rice farmers and everyone else in the food chain--those who produce beef, pork, chicken and our fishing industry, we have to look at our aquatics development, and aquatic resources, these are our fishing resources all over the country. We are an archipelago, it makes no sense why we cannot feed ourselves at least fish in the table for our Filipinos. Diyan kailangan tutukan lalo na sa presyo ng pagkain, kasi yan talaga masakit kapag tumaas ang presyo ng pagkain, nararamdaman ng masang Pilipino. Nararamdaman nila yan. Hindi sa pagtaas ng Netflix, wala naman silang pakialam sa taas ng Netflix, sa taas ng iTunes or whatever. Ang talagang nararamdaman nila ay ang taas ng presyo ng bilihin. That is why the number two request of the Filipino people in these surveys is basically the raising of salaries of the people, of the workers, so, I think it helps. This is a phenomenon, inflation is not just in the Philippines, if you go and research, inflation has hit countries like Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and all our neighbors in the Southeast Asian region. Thailand has also been hit by inflation. So, they have made adjustments already to their daily wages for their people, we should follow suit, to be able to give a decent living wage to our people where they can have a decent life and not live within the poverty threshold. I think that is the most important.

Q: On the P150 across-the-board wage hike. It has been approved, in principle, by the Senate, so what's next?

SP MIGZ: Well, we are working with the chairman of the Committee on Labor, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, para maipalabas po natin ang committee report. Marami na akong nakausap na Senador, I've talked to a lot of Senators and they totally agree that the Senate should make a stand on increasing wages of our people. Look at the surveys taken, these are my arguments all the time to big business who come to me and oppose, they really get tired and angry, and I tell them, you know, look at the surveys, 51 percent of the Filipino people have self-rated poverty. They saw themselves under the poverty threshold, 51 percent of the country, and I came out with the question in the Pulse Asia survey, "Gusto ba ninyo na itaas ang inyong sahod?" 97 percent said yes.

Only two percent said "No," ibig po sabihin talagang gusto po nila na itaas ang sahod nila. Also one of the reasons why there's a Philippine diaspora, why are so many Filipino workers leaving the country? I had a discussion yesterday with a group of restaurant owners, food and beverage owners, as well as hotels, alam mo ang sabi nila? You know that's a phenomenon now na, Migz, they work with us for six months, after sixth months, they get a passport and they go to Singapore, they leave, they go to Dubai, they go to the Middle East, they go to all these cities where they work as food and beverages employees, and obviously my answer to them is it is because we don't pay enough. I'm sorry if I want to be blunt about it, we don't pay enough. Why is there a problem with nurses? There is a problem with nurses. If you look at the number of nurses, rather students that are studying to be nurses, it's by the tens of thousands. There are so many nursing students in the country, but when they graduate, why do they not stay here? They go abroad to the United States, to the United Kingdom. It's because of higher wages in these countries. You know, there are hospitals in the provinces where they pay the nurses just above minimum wage. That's not fair to nurses who have studied for so long to become this qualified and skilled in helping the people. So the answer is we have to increase our salaries. And I mentioned this because countries now are adjusting. They used to complain we were the second highest daw in terms of daily wage here in the Southeast Asian nations, next only to Singapore. Well, I'll tell you, it's no longer the case. Indonesia has increased their minimum wage by about P800, now they're about P810 to P820 per day. Malaysia is P890 per day. Vietnam is following suit because even if it's a communist country, the people are feeling the pinch of inflation. So we have to look at that context. And I think we can share the economic gains naman to our workers, nang sa ganoon, babalik naman iyan sa ekonomiya. They are not going to keep the money, they are going to spend the money as well and bring it back to the economy.

Q: Senate President, the West Philippine Sea, you said that the Senate--my understanding was, 95 percent ho ba ng mga senador are in agreement to issue a strongly worded statement? You want to file a resolution on the continued harassment of China in the West Philippine Sea. Sir, unang-una, meron pa ho bang nago-oppose, number 2, when do you plan to issue this resolution?

SP MIGZ: Well, I can't short-guess who will oppose this measure, Pinky. We passed these similar measures before, and it was unanimous by the Senate. My message to our neighbors in China, get out of our territory. Get out of our territory. It makes no sense it is so illogical. Look at the map. I have a map with me here. I bring this visual all the time with me and I show the people, Pinky, very simple. Look at the map of the Philippines, where is Recto Bank? Recto Bank is 80 nautical miles here in Palawan, right beside Palawan, and it's 80 nautical miles from mainland Philippines. Where is China? China is 600 nautical miles away from this area, and they're claiming that whole area as theirs, which makes no sense, in practical terms for me, unbelievable. And so it's a creeping invasion. Before you know it, we wake up, they are already beside El Nido, you know, claiming that these islands are theirs. So unless we put a stop to this, unless we push back, and I'm hoping that the President, in his State of the Nation Address will continue his statement that no single inch of Filipino territory will be given up to any foreign nation and that we will protect every square inch of the Philippines. I think I want to hear how we can strengthen our Navy or how we can strengthen our Coast Guard. My message to the Chinese, get out of our territory.

Q: Very quick question, SP, dapat ho bang dalhin ito sa UN General Assembly in September?

SP MIGZ: Absolutely, Pinky. That's why we're going to pass a resolution recommending it to our government agencies like the Department of Foreign Affairs and to the President himself that we should file all the evidence in the last seven years, the arbitral ruling. Itong ebidensya pinapakita natin, video evidence, and we'll show to them that what they've been doing is building, reclaiming islands, building bases. These are bases carrying missiles, ships all around the areas where it is part of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines as declared by the arbitral ruling seven years ago in [2016]. So we have to go back to the United Nations, show them that this is not being respected. China may not do anything, they may ignore it, but let the international community know what is happening here near our shores in the Philippines, within our Exclusive Economic Zone.

Q: Senate President Migz Zubiri, thank you so much for your time.

SP MIGZ: Thank you very much and God bless the Philippines.

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