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IMEE: CONVERT BILLIONS IN BAYANIHAN LOANS TO DIRECT ASSISTANCE

April 30, 2021

Senator Imee Marcos has urged the government to convert the bulk of stimulus funds that are lying unused in state financial institutions and directly assist businesses hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic. Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, expressed alarm during Wednesday’s committee hearing that international financial institutions like the World Trade Organization, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Asian Development Bank have forecast that the Philippines could become Asia’s “laggard” in economic recovery due to the lack of economic stimulus funding.   “We can solve the sluggish disbursement of billions in stimulus funds by converting part of the budget for loan programs in state banks and pension funds into more direct forms of assistance like wage subsidies and job programs,” Marcos said.    "For example, despite 65% of carinderias and small neighborhood shops having temporarily or permanently closed, this target group cannot access these loans, being mere barangay-level operations that are not qualified according to the requirements of the Small Business Corporation and the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry),” Marcos explained.   “Even MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) that are capable and ready to borrow will hesitate to avail of loans while the pandemic continues. Until there is a clearer policy on imposing community quarantines, they will lack the confidence of being able to pay back,” Marcos added.   Marcos cited that only Php3.3 billion has been lent out from the Php10 billion allotted to the DTI’s CARES (COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises) program for MSMEs under Bayanihan 2.   The Php6 billion earmarked for the hard-hit tourism sector may also remain unutilized, “until a more expansive vaccine roll-out takes place and tourist confidence returns,” Marcos said.   Funds provided by the Land Bank of the Philippines, Development Bank of the Philippines, and the Philguarantee Corporation are “similarly slow-moving,” Marcos added.   “We need to convert billions pumped into banks and other financial institutions into ‘ayuda’ from the DSWD (Department of Social Welfare and Development), from DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment) through the CAMP and TUPAD programs, and increased assistance to the unemployed through the SSS (Social Security System), plus other direct subsidies for digitizing, retrofitting, retooling, and retraining MSMEs,” Marcos said.

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BACK-UP PLAN FOR VACCINE DELAYS: REPURPOSED DRUGS

April 28, 2021

Senator Imee Marcos has renewed her call on the Department of Health (DOH) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to consider preventive treatments for Covid-19 and grant wider emergency use approval of repurposed drugs like Ivermectin to back up the government’s erratic timeline to procure vaccines.   Marcos issued the statement after the expected arrival of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine Sunday was delayed, adding that earlier delays have taken place even from the COVAX facility of the World Health Organization (WHO).   “Let’s use preventive treatments and repurposed drugs while waiting for the vaccines. Setbacks in delivery timelines are taking place worldwide, not just in the Philippines,” Marcos said.   India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, has cut back on its vaccine exports as it faces an overwhelming surge in cases, while the EU and the UK continue to bicker over production and delivery delays, Marcos explained.   Marcos also cited the drawback in vaccine shipments of Moderna to rich countries like Canada and Britain, adding that safety reviews have also delayed the roll-out of AstraZeneca and the J&J vaccine in other countries.   “We need a back-up plan to ease the burden on our healthcare system. The global vaccine supply will remain uncertain for months to come, so what’s the back-up plan to stop infection and transmission, especially of these Covid variants?” Marcos asked.   Repurposing drugs to treat Covid-19 has been undergoing further studies worldwide, following testimonials of relief from patients and doctors alike, particularly in the use of Ivermectin, originally an anti-parasitic that has been used in humans to treat diseases such as elephantiasis and onchocersiasis or “river blindness.”   “The FDA has granted emergency use of Ivermectin but only to certain hospitals. I hope the hesitation is not because it is beholden to the interests of big pharma, since the drug costs only 35 pesos,” Marcos said.   Marcos also cited recent results of a study by infectious disease experts in Singapore that showed the likelihood of Covid-19 infection was reduced with the use of hydroxychloroquine, Ivermectin, and a povidone-iodine throat spray among some 3,000 trial participants after the May 2020 outbreak in the dorms of migrant workers.   Only 201,521 Filipinos have received complete vaccination since the government’s roll-out started in March, with 1,205,697 having received their first dose, according to the April 21 report of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF).   The government’s yearend goal is to administer 148 million jabs of single-dose and double-dose vaccines to cover 78 million Filipinos, or more than two-thirds of the country’s population of about 108 million, as recommended by the WHO to achieve herd immunity.   “That means the government needs to achieve a daily vaccination rate of about 313,446 people every single day starting May until the end of the year,” Marcos pointed out, adding that the latest IATF report said the fastest vaccination rate in a day has only been 93,849 people.  

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2GO Rises To Challenge Of Pandemic, Transports Majority Of Food Supplies Nationwide

April 26, 2021

MANILA – Major food manufacturers in Metro Manila, Visayas, and Mindanao move their temperature-controlled cargoes for distribution and consumption through 2GO Special Containers and Value Added Services, Inc. (SCVASI), the business arm of 2GO Group Inc. that operates the largest domestic reefer in the country, serves bulk liquid transport, and oversized and/or overweight cargo. SCVASI also enables various food producers nationwide to ship their chilled and frozen goods to reach ultimate consumers this pandemic. “Although the pandemic has created uncertainties in the movement of goods, 2GO never ceased operations. We ensure an unhampered supply chain across the archipelago, especially on the transportation of essential goods,” 2GO SCVASI Senior Vice President Gener Lim said. “From manufacturers to consumers, ourreefers sustain the freshness of temperature-sensitive cargoes, such as fruits, vegetables, meat and poultry, seafood, dairy, among others during intermodal and multimodal freight transport.” 2GO’s new and well-maintained reefer containers with average age of six years also carry delicate cargoes, which can accommodate as many as 120,000 poultry products or about 180,000 bottles of health supplements per 20 footers. Thousands of perishable goods have been moved this “new normal.” Alternatively, customers can opt for the less-container-load (LCL), consolidated with other frozen or chilled cargo, “2GO is the only logistics provider in the country that offers LCL for reefer forwarding, which makes us the go-to provider for this kind of service.” Lim also stated, “We don’t only deliver a white-glove service, we also provide speed, convenience, and fulfillment. With regular sailing schedules and priority berthing of our vessels in all ports of call in the country, it is time-saving and cost-effective for our clients.” 2GO commits reliability, efficiency, and quality service through an experienced team, coupled with a well-maintained equipment. 2GO acquired brand new 20- and 40-footer reefers, and ISO tanks, which are set to arrive by month-end. This is to augment more than 600 Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEU) as part of the equipment availability and inventory base. Meanwhile, SCVASI transports liquid with the use of Flexibags and ISO tanks. Roughly 50% of these manufacturers utilizes the service for their domestic forwarding needs. 2GO has nine freighter and ROPAX (roll-on/roll-off passenger) vessels, which sail to 20 major ports in the country. The Philippines’ largest integrated transport and logistics provider also operates a broad service network of close to 200 warehouse and hub facilities in strategic locations to efficiently move cargoes. To inquire about 2GO SCVASI products and services, please visit 2GO’s website www.2GO.com.ph, call our hotline (02) 8 528 7171, or email us at special_containers@2GO.com.ph.

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Marcos urges Asian strategy in sea dispute with China

April 24, 2021

Senator Imee Marcos has backed up President Duterte’s policy of shunning confrontation and instead “pursuing common ground with China and other maritime claimants” to ease security tensions in the West Philippine Sea. Marcos urged the President to immediately appoint a special envoy to China to discuss the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. “Preferably, a member of the Duterte family like Mayor Sara,” Marcos said, calling it a “very Asian strategy” that will lend a personal touch to bilateral talks and ensure a frank discussion with the President. “Diplomatic protests are certainly in order, but constant confrontation delays consensus and is really not the Asian way of resolving disagreements,” Marcos said, recommending a “verbal ceasefire” as another immediate measure. Marcos cited bilateral and multi-state negotiations that the government can “take to the next level,” from joint treaties on fishing, exploration, crime-fighting, and coastal management in disputed maritime areas, to complete the joint South China Sea Code of Conduct among ASEAN states and China. “Malaysia and Vietnam are showing the way. They’re now finalizing a memorandum of understanding on shared security and the use of maritime areas under dispute,” Marcos pointed out. Marcos said the Duterte government’s policy of pursuing shared interests should be expanded, citing the successful establishment of a joint naval anti-terrorism force with Malaysia and Indonesia, following the Marawi Siege. “Besides agreements between member states, the whole ASEAN must also propel a joint Code of Conduct with China to its completion. It’s been almost 20 years since it was proposed and only general terms have so far been agreed upon. Let’s finish it ASAP!” Marcos added. “The emphasis of foreign policy is to pursue shared goals rather than just unilateral interests if harmony is to be achieved,” Marcos said.   

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ASF-free hog raisers put at risk by weak inspections, online selling

April 19, 2021

Hog raisers whose businesses remain free from African Swine Free (ASF) are still at risk of contamination because of weak import inspections and rampant online selling of meat, Senator Imee Marcos has warned. During a Senate hearing last week, Marcos said inspections were “practically non-existent,” after she drew an admission from officials of the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS)  that only 10% of meat imports was being inspected at the country’s points of entry and 90% at second-tier control areas. “That violates Section 12 of the Food Safety Act of 2013, which says that inspections should be done at the first port of entry. No ACEA (agricultural commodity examination area) has a lab, we lack trained quarantine officers, nor is there a representative from the Department of Health, ” Marcos pointed out. Marcos added that the online trade of meat products that undergo little or no inspection may also worsen the spread of ASF to distant hog-raising provinces like Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Bukidnon, South Cotabato, and General Santos, from which Metro Manila is sourcing pork to remedy its supply shortage. To solve the problem, Marcos urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to immediately sit down with e-commerce platforms like Lazada an Shopee and figure out how to minimize, if not stop, the “rampant online selling of meat.” “The DA should not pass on control responsibility to the local governments that are being forced to apprehend couriers and confiscate meat products at their borders,” Marcos added. Marcos has been vocal against the DA’s recommendation to President Duterte that pork imports should be increased and their tariffs lowered to curb the supply shortage in the National Capital Region. “The looming increase in the minimum access volume of pork and tariff reductions may just kill the local hog industry even before ASF can,” Marcos said. The Senate has called on President Duterte to recall the DA recommendation that will allow an increase in the minimum access volume (MAV) of pork from about 54,000 metric tons to more than 400,000, and a decrease in tariffs from 30% to 5% for imports within the MAV and from 40% to 10% for imports outside the MAV.  

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Imee: Goodbye to 'Ayuda', PPE, Covid-19 vaccines

April 9, 2021

Senator Imee Marcos has castigated the Department of Agriculture (DA) for crippling the government’s ability to raise much needed revenue to cope with the double onslaught of African Swine Fever (ASF) and Covid-19. Marcos accused the DA of giving President Duterte “questionable advice” that led to his signing Executive Order (EO) 128 on Wednesday, which increases pork import volumes and lowers tariffs at the same time, in a bid to reverse a supply shortage caused by ASF. “Akala ko ba naghahanap tayo ng pera? (Aren’t we looking for more funding?) Where is the much touted whole-of-government approach?” Marcos asked. “We just threw away Php11.5 billion of ‘ayuda,’ vaccines, PPEs (personal protective equipment) and ditched local hog raisers, all in one fell swoop,” Marcos said of what would be lost from lowering pork tariffs. “The DA has assured pork importers of scandalous profits but has left the local hog raisers it is supposed to protect with a very sketchy plan? The Php1.5 billion that the DA allotted to the livestock industry in its 2021 budget is measly, token support, knowing ASF has been around since 2019,” Marcos added. EO 128 supports a recommendation recently transmitted by the executive department to Congress to raise the minimum access volume (MAV) of pork imports by 350,000 metric tons (MT), or about 6.5 times its present limit of 54,210 MT, to total 404,210 MT. Tariffs on imports within and outside the MAV are to be reduced from 30% to 5% and 40% to 10%, respectively, within the first three months after the EO takes effect, then raised by 5% each for the next nine months. Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said that EO 128 will “surrender the country’s food security to foreign producers and exporters while forcing local hog raisers to sell at a loss.” “Increasing pork imports and reducing tariffs may give near-term relief for consumers but will deal a double whammy on our very own hog raisers, with long-term effects,” Marcos said. “Clearly, the main beneficiaries of the EO are foreign producers, foreign exporters, local pork importers, and perhaps corrupt government officials selling import licenses,” Marcos also said. “The competitive advantage given to pork importers will be insurmountable and will discourage the recovery of local hog raisers. Majority of them are backyard raisers who may just decide to shut down business rather than be forced to sell at a measly profit, if not at a loss,” Marcos explained. An April 1 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations stated that African Swine Fever has already affected Filipino hog raisers in 12 regions, 40 provinces, 466 cities and municipalities, and 2,425 communities. The government has not yet declared a state of calamity due to ASF, delaying the release of more relief funds for the local hog industry. “Local hog raisers cannot lower prices of hogs delivered from the provinces to Metro Manila when they have not even received transport subsidies as promised by the DA in February,” Marcos pointed out. Wet market prices in Metro Manila have shot past price ceilings of Php270 for pork shoulder (kasim) and Php300 for pork belly (liempo), reaching Php370 to Php406 pesos, respectively, according to surveys conducted by Marcos’s office. Marcos cited that the government recently gave pork importers a wider margin of profit by raising the suggested retail price (SRP) of imported pork to Php350. “Why is the DA favoring importers? Local hog raisers have been asking for an SRP of Php339 to Php360 two months ago,” Marcos pointed out.

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