By Delon Porcalla and Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 18, 2015 – 12:00am
Reposted from The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – With experts warning of a severe El Niño this year, President Aquino ordered his Cabinet yesterday to present a detailed road map for dealing with the weather phenomenon that can bring torrential rains and then drought.
Aquino met with members of his official family to assess the administration’s first semester performance on the implementation of programs.
Secretary Arsenio Balisacan of the National Economic and Development Authority will lead a Food Security Council, according to Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
Balisacan was tasked to “map out specific action programs on attaining food production and supply objectives, as well as sustenance of farmers’ incomes,” Coloma said.
The council includes the Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Finance, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, National Food Authority, National Irrigation Administration, Philippine Statistics Authority and the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration.
Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, designated as the water czar, will head a group tasked to ensure “adequacy of potable water supply,” Coloma said.
His members will be comprised of representatives from the Local Water Utilities Administration, National Water Resource Board, Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System and the National Irrigation Administration.
“The National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council was also directed to coordinate with its local councils in preparing and implementing community-based water conservation and other mitigation programs,” Coloma said.
The Cabinet meeting started at 11 a.m. and focused on the “review of first semester performance and implementation of Philippine development programs,” he added.
During the last Cabinet meeting in mid-June, economic growth was reported to have slowed in the first quarter despite huge savings from various agencies and substantial increases in yearly allocated budgets to practically all departments.
In June, Aquino didn’t give members of his Cabinet a dressing down despite the slow pace of the economy, which performed below the expected target, and instead directed them to go the extra mile in pushing for reforms in the last year of his six-year term.
Aquino’s meeting with the Cabinet, where he asked them to “exert maximum efforts” to improve the economy and serve the people to the best of their abilities, should not be taken in a negative light, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
“The President encouraged the Cabinet members to go the extra mile to further serve the people,” he said.
“It does not mean, in any way, a rebuke on them – that they are not performing their jobs.”
Cabinet secretaries explained the reasons for the government underspending that resulted in a weaker 5.2-percent first quarter Gross Domestic Product growth, including bottlenecks in the release of funds, Lacierda said.
“And the President has issued a directive to ensure that all that is due to the cabinet departments, all the funding that is due to and provided for that cabinet department must be spent,” he said.
It was important for the government to accelerate spending because that would be the way to create jobs for the people and improve their welfare, Lacierda said.
“The government has the money, the economy’s performance is good, (including) the collections that we receive,” he said.
“It is incumbent on government, on the Cabinet departments, to spend that money, that’s why the directive of the President is to enhance and make sure that we spend the money that has been allocated to all the departments.”
It would be up to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to announce any further budgetary reforms to increase and speed up spending, Lacierda said.
“Secretary Butch Abad has done a number of budgetary reforms and reforms take time,” he said.
“It takes the bureaucracy some time to adjust to the new reforms. Number two, we have what we call the absorptive capacity of each agency. The capability of the agency to absorb the funding that they ask and the ability of the agencies to implement those projects.”
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