May 15, 2006 (Office of the Press Secretary) President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has increased to 1.3 million the number of poor families receiving a kilo of rice daily under the Food For School Program (FSP) for 2006, according to Cabinet Secretary Ricardo L. Saludo.

This represents an increase of more than three times the 400,000 households earlier approved for FSP coverage this year.

Hunger alleviation measures, tuition fees and population dominated the discussions at the Cabinet meeting called by the President at the Villamor Air Base shortly after her arrival from a successful four-day state visit to Saudi Arabia Thursday.

To beef up FSP funds, Finance Secretary Margarito Teves proposed that the windfall profits from increased oil tariff charges be channeled to the FSP, while Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process Jesus Dureza sought the "fast-tracking of a $27-million World Food Program (WFP) project to feed two million people in Mindanao for one year," Saludo said.

During the meeting, the Cabinet also approved an additional P600 million to enable the government to meet its target of putting up 1,356 Tindahan Natin selling cheap, good-quality rice and noodles.

The Cabinet official also said that another hunger-alleviation project of the government that may be expanded is the Barangay Food Terminal (BFT), which gets food products from farmers and fishermen and sell them at prices 10-15 percent lower than those charged by public markets.

The BFT is under the food logistics program assigned by the President to the Department of Agriculture (DA). "More BFTs are to be launched with P50 million in DA funding, complemented by the Tindahan Natin," Saludo said.

Underscoring the importance of increased food productivity and job creation on top of the food assistance program, President Arroyo urged the revival of the family farm program of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to encourage backyard gardening for daily food needs.

"On job creation, the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), with funding from the Road Board, will launch an emergency employment program on May 15 to generate 17,200 jobs," Saludo said.

He added that on tuition fees, the President proposed that the P250 million Student Loan Fund be given as incentive to schools that do not raise their tuition.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHE) has put a cap of 7.6 percent on tuition fee hikes by private schools to keep any increase within the annual inflation rate.

Bunye disputes IMD report on RP competitiveness

Foreign portfolio investment inflows registered a 10 percent increase in April over that of March, net foreign direct investments in the country hit $82 million in February compared with $25 million a year ago, while exports in March rose at their fastest rate since Oct. 1999.

These and many other positive developments in key sectors of the economy make the Philippines among the competitive countries in the world, according to Press Secretary and Presidential Spokesman Ignacio R. Bunye.

In his weekly column The View From the Palace that comes out every Monday, Bunye strongly disputed the report of the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) ranking the Philippines as the 13th least competitive from among 61 economies worldwide.

To start with, Bunye pointed out that foreign portfolio investment in the Philippines rose 10 percent in April from the previous month, while net foreign direct investment in the Philippines in February came in at $82 million compared with $25 million a year ago.

He added that Philippine exports in March rose at their fastest rate since Oct. 1999, rising 25.8 per cent from a year ago to $4.1 billion.

Moreover, Bunye said inflation slowed in April to the lowest rate in five months, with the consumer price index rising 7.1 percent from a year earlier after a 7.6 percent gain in March, while the country’s foreign exchange reserves rose to a record $20.91 billion in April, higher than the $20.84 billion record in March.

Bunye also said that the output of the agriculture sector rose 3. 94 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.

The country’s competitiveness is very evident as shown by its strong macroeconomic indicators that have caught the attention of the world, he added.

The Malacañang official said that JP Morgan Securities Inc. is upgrading the Philippines to "overweight" in both the emerging market and the Asia-Pacific categories because of the country's improving fiscal and economic outlook.

Similarly, Bank of America has raised its forecast for Philippine economic expansion this year to 5.3 percent from 4.7 percent, while CB Richard Ellis Philippines Inc., which projected that the number of call center seats in the Philippines may increase this year by 40,000 to 110,000.

Bunye said IMD’s listing may have been based on old data because Swiss financial giant UBS has also upgraded its growth domestic product (GDP) forecast for the Philippines from 4.8 percent to 5.2 percent.

UBS is also anticipating that the Philippine economy would grow 5.8 percent next year from the initial projection of 4.2 percent.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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