By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

RICE AID. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. delivers a speech during a rice distribution activity in Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte on Friday (Sept. 29, 2023). A total of 2,265 Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries from Siargao Island and 1,000 from Dinagat Islands received the sacks of rice, part of the seizure of the Bureau of Customs during a warehouse raid in Zamboanga City early this month. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. on Friday directed concerned government agencies to make sure that the “Walang Gutom 2027: Food Stamp Program (FSP)” would not be tainted with irregularities.

At the launch of the FSP in Dapa, Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte, Marcos renewed his commitment to transform the country into a “new Philippines” with “zero hunger.”

“Inaatasan ko ang mga kinauukulang ahensya ng gobyerno na magtulungan tungo sa mas mahusay na pagpapatupad ng Food Stamp Program na ito. Tiyakin natin na walang bahid ng anumang anomalya ang pamamalakad ng ating mga proyekto (I am directing the concerned agencies of the government to work together towards the better implementation of this Food Stamp Program. Let’s make sure that the management of our projects is free of any anomaly),” he said.

Isinusulong natin ang Food Stamp Program upang matiyak na hindi lamang busog ang mga benepisyaryo, kundi malusog, masigla at malakas na magagampanan ang pang-araw-araw na mga gawain (We are promoting the Food Stamps Program to ensure that the beneficiaries are not only full, but also healthy, energetic and strong enough to perform their daily tasks),” Marcos added.

Marcos also led the ceremonial distribution of the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to FSP beneficiaries.

The EBT cards are loaded with PHP3,000 worth of food credits. Fifty percent of the amount is allotted for carbohydrates-rich food, 30 percent for protein and 20 percent for fruits and vegetables.

Marcos called on the FSP beneficiaries to be wise in using their EBT cards, saying they need to get proper nutrition.

“We do not only talk now of food supply, we do not talk only of enough in terms of food, in terms of volume, but the quality of the food and the quality of the nutrition that it provides.And that is a new aspect to this new program that we are launching today,” he said.

A flagship program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), the FSP aims to decrease the incidence of involuntary hunger by improving the availability and accessibility of nutritious food for less fortunate households while helping address nutritional concerns.

Marcos expressed his gratitude to the government’s international partners, assuring them that the government will remain steadfast in creating more programs to alleviate the Filipinos’ plight.  

“Rest assured that your investments in the Filipino people will bring about the progress and prosperity that we all aspire for,” he said. “With your support, I am certain that we can empower even more disadvantaged Filipinos to rise up and make a different course for their future — a future without hunger.”

Rice distribution

Meanwhile, Marcos also led the distribution of rice to beneficiaries of the DSWD’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).

A total of 2,265 4Ps beneficiaries from Siargao Island and 1,000 from Dinagat Islands received the sacks of smuggled rice seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) during its warehouse raid in Zamboanga City early this month.

Marcos reaffirmed his administration’s strong resolve to ramp up its fight against hoarding and smuggling of agricultural products, saying he would not allow such illegal activities to yield a negative impact on the agriculture sector.

Kailangan din po natin tugunan ang problema ng smuggling at saka ng hoarding at ito po ay aming pinatibay, ang pag-enforce nito dahil ‘yung mga gawaing iyan ay nagpapataas ng presyo ng bigas. At iyan ang dahilan kung bakit ang bigas biglang umakyat ang presyo dahil ‘yung mga smuggled na bigas ay hindi pinapalabas, iniipit para tumaas nga ang presyo (We also need to address the problem of smuggling and then hoarding and this is what we have strengthened, its enforcement, because those activities increase the price of rice. And that is the reason why did the price of rice suddenly go up. The smuggled rice is not released immediately so they can increase the price),” he said.

Marcos said it would be a “great situation, if we run out of smuggled rice.”

“Because ibig sabihin wala na masyado smuggling, wala na masyado hoarding. Makokontrol ang presyo (Because it means that there is no more smuggling, no more hoarding. Price can be controlled). So, that is the best way to maintain it. That is the long term. That is the long-term aspiration of all of this,” he said.

Ease of doing business

In an interview, Marcos said he has also directed local government units (LGUs) to stop collecting toll fees and charges from motor vehicles transporting goods or merchandise to ensure the ease of doing business.

His order was contained in Executive Order (EO) 41 signed on Sept. 25 which prohibits all LGUs to collect “pass-through fees” on all cargo vehicles while passing through any national roads and other roads not constructed and funded by LGUs.

“We are doing this to ease the business and to lower the cost of transportation kasi kung dire-diretso ang truck sa kung saan siya pupunta talaga, mas mabilis, ibig sabihin, mas mura ang transportation. So, isa iyon, tapos dahil may hindi na tinitigil sa bawat boundary ay mas mabilis na ang pagdaloy (because if the truck goes straight to its destination, it’s faster, which means transportation is cheaper. So, that’s one of the reasons because there’s no stopping at each boundary and the flow is faster),” Marcos said.

“So, it’s really about the ease of doing business and to simplify again the procedures that are required for the transporter to bring the produce, especially from the farm to market.” 

Serve its purpose

Meanwhile, DSWD Secretary Rex Gatchalian assured Malacanang that the agency would work closely with other government offices and private organizations to ensure that the food stamp program will serve its purpose without being tainted with anomalies.

Gatchalian also vowed that the program would lead to a significant dent in the country’s malnutrition and poverty.

“We hope to provide meal augmentation to food-poor families that would give them that extra push to capacitate themselves into finding jobs, becoming productive citizens who are able to contribute to nation building,” he said. (With a report from Zaldy de Layola, PNA)