Travel more, eat less

While most Filipinos are struggling with rising prices of basic commodities and services, Malacañang is asking Congress for a 58% increase in President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s travel funds for 2024.

A minuscule 6% increase is proposed for the agriculture sector, from the current year’s allocation of P186.54 billion to P197.84 billion in 2024, of which P167 billion will be for the Department of Agriculture (DA). Marcos concurrently serves as Agriculture secretary.

The increase in the agriculture budget is inadequate, according to the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, which laments the administration’s “non-priority of agriculture and food.” The P167 billion DA allocation for next year is only 2.9% of the P5.77 trillion proposed budget program.

This despite the assurance from House Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez that next year’s proposed expenditure budget will prioritize boosting agricultural production and reducing the cost of transportation.

The DA originally proposed P396 billion for 2024, but the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) trimmed it by 54%.

Meanwhile, Marcos’ budget for his domestic and international trips will have a whopping 58% increase, from P893.57 million this year to P1.41 billion in 2024.

The DBM said the big jump in Marcos’ travel budget is justified, citing the administration’s agenda to promote the Philippines as an “investment hub.”

As of June, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) said in a press release, Marcos’ trips abroad had generated “P3.48 trillion in investments.”

The PCO press release further said: “Total foreign investments committed during the president’s official travels include in Indonesia, $8.48 billion; Singapore, $6.54 billion; the United States, $3.847 billion; Thailand, $4.62 billion; Belgium, $2.20 billion; China, $24.239 billion; and Japan, $13 billion.

“Of the commitments, $4.349 billion, or P239 billion, have materialized with the companies in various stages of implementation of their projects in the country. Projects worth $29.712 billion, or P1.7 trillion, have existing memorandum of understanding or letters of intent, while confirmed projects worth $28.863 billion are in the planning stage.”

However, the Department of Trade and Industry reported the following month that “only around $88 million worth of these investment pledges” from the president’s foreign trips were expected “to materialize in 2023.”

Secretary Alfredo Pascual said: “The number that we expect to materialize in 2023 will total around $88 million; maliit pa ‘no (it’s still quite small).”

Iyon lang iyong (That is only) up to June this year, and we expect some more to ripen and eventually live to the inflow of investments,” he added. “It’s not so large as yet, but the potential is [that], as we announced before, we have a pipeline that we were able to build up, amounting to around $70 billion.”

The proposed 2024 budget shows the administration’s priorities for spending: a 58% increase in the president’s travel funds, while the agriculture sector gets a measly 6% more than its budget this year.

While the president plans to embark on more travels next year, the latest survey of the Social Weather Stations shows that more Filipino families experienced involuntary hunger — or being hungry and not having anything to eat — at least once in the second quarter of 2023.

It appears that Malacanang’s budget mantra for 2024 is: travel more for the president; eat less for Filipinos who can hardly afford three meals a day due to rising prices.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.