Inflation hits 4.6% in May; suspending TRAIN to stifle growth - economic managers
Philippine inflation rose to 4.6 percent in May, owing to higher prices of rice, corn, fish, tobacco and personal transport, the government said on Tuesday.
Inflation in April was at 4.5 percent, while in May last year, 2.9 percent. It was the highest since May 2014, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, when inflation reached 4.5 percent.
Economic officials, led by Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, in an unprecedented move, held a press conference Tuesday at his office apparently to downplay the impact of the Tax Reform Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act on the latest consumer price index.
The economic team composed by Diokno, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III even issued a joint statement justifying the need to maintain TRAIN and not to suspend its implementation amid calls by some quarters.
"Suspending TRAIN and adopting other band-aid solutions will only have a minimal and short-term impact on inflation and will stifle our growth, further delaying our nation’s progress toward becoming an upper-middle-income country by 2019, such that around six million Filipinos would be lifted out of poverty by 2022," Diokno said, reading the joint statement.
"We must keep in mind that TRAIN reformed a previously unfair and harsh tax regime," he added.
Diokno said the high personal transport prices were largely driven by rising world crude oil prices.
He said the effect of excise taxes on petroleum, sweetened beverages, and tobacco under the TRAIN law remains at 0.4 percentage points, the same as in April, or equivalent to 9 centavos for every additional peso due to inflation.
He reiterated that the Department of Energy and the Department of Trade and Industry are doing their jobs to lessen the effect of high prices of goods.
Diokno added the economic team would ask President Rodrigo Duterte to certify as urgent the passage of the Rice Tarrification bill to address high food prices, particularly rice.
If the bill would be passed immediately, citing the central bank estimates, he said inflation would go down by around 0.4 percentage points in the third quarter.
"More importantly, we estimate that this policy shift will drive down the price of rice by up to 7 pesos per kilo for the Filipino family," he added.
Diokno expressed belief there was no need to adjust upward the inflation target of 2-4 percent this year as prices of goods are expected to "taper off."
He also raised optimism that the government could hit 7 percent economic growth in the second quarter of this year as "the impact of TRAIN, which was not felt in the first quarter, can be felt in the second quarter."
The country's gross domestic product grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018. Celerina Monte/DMS