Shamelessly out of touch. Hard to believe. Talking about another planet.
These were among the reactions of labor groups and lawmakers to the government’s economic planning agency that tried to explain how a Filipino family should adjust its P10,000 monthly budget to cope with rising prices of goods and services.
Labor groups challenged officials of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) to live off on such meager income so they could experience how poor families were trying to make ends meet.
“We challenge [Socioeconomic Planning] Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia to subject his family to a strict budget of P10,000 for a month,” Sentro secretary general Josua Mata said on Wednesday.
Renato Magtubo, spokesperson for the Nagkaisa labor coalition, pointed out that Neda’s computation countered the administration’s supposed goal of ensuring that families live decently.
“Given that family budget, we will have a stunted labor force, physically and mentally in the future,” Magtubo said.
Eat once a day
Tongue in cheek, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Wednesday that his family could “survive” on the monthly budget set by Neda.
“Actually, we can, only if my family will eat only once a day, won’t brush our teeth nor take a bath, and walk every day to and from our place of work but avoid perspiring so we won’t wash our clothes,” Lacson said.
“And yes, [only if I] ask my wife to stop watching her favorite ‘telenovela’ because I will sell the TV set,” he added.
“[And] ask my children to throw away their mobile phones so they won’t ask me for ‘pasa’ loads. Actually, we can survive with P10 a month as long as we all stop breathing.”
A Neda official was quoted as saying a family of five could hypothetically survive on P10,000 a month by adjusting their budgets according to price increases brought on by the tax reform package.
The official said the family would need an additional P459 as the inflation rate rose to 4.6 percent in May, the highest in more than five years. The inflation rate in Metro Manila stood at 5.2 percent.
Neda later said its inflation-adjusted P10,459 monthly budget was only hypothetical and was by no means intended to show that the family could live on that amount.
Even so, the suggestion that a typical Filipino family could survive on P10,459 a month was met with ridicule from a number of senators.
An incredulous Sen. Ralph Recto said: “That’s very hard to believe.”
“I challenge them to reduce their salary for three months and try to survive with P10,000 a month for three months. I bet they will change their calculations,” he added.
Sen. Francis Escudero wasn’t sure if Neda was talking about the same planet.
“Quite frankly, I do not know which planet they are talking about. Because it’s certainly not Metro Manila or the Philippines,” he said.
Escudero also wondered whether Neda might have miscalculated. “Their assumption might be that there are two breadwinners in a family of five, so the right total is P20,000,” he said.
Lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives joined the chorus of criticisms against Neda.
‘Out of touch’
“You are outrageously and shamelessly out of touch,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate said in a statement.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said the “sample household budget” of the administration’s economic managers was another PR spin meant to deodorize the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act and the inflation it induced “to put down the resounding calls for salary and wage hikes.”
Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas said Neda’s “inhumane” standard of living was being used to justify low wages and to downplay the impact of the TRAIN law and price hikes, especially on poor families.
The Makabayan lawmakers have been pressing for a legislated P750 nationwide minimum wage.
ACT Teacher Rep. France Castro questioned Neda’s estimate of P1,288 rent for a house.
Tinio said P10,000 a month for a family of five was far from the P29,190 monthly cost of living for a family of five estimated by Ibon Foundation.
Amid the criticisms, Neda said it did not say that only P10,000 a month was enough for a family of five, as was erroneously reported by a television station.
“During the June 5 press briefing on the May 2018 inflation report, Neda showed how a hypothetical monthly budget of P10,000 will be affected by a 4.6-percent inflation rate,” it noted.
“The budget was broken down into items commonly consumed by a Filipino household based on the consumer price index weights published by the Philippine Statistics Authority,” Neda said.
During the press conference, “Neda showed the specific commodities most affected by inflation [such as food and fuel]” as well as “explained the causes, citing the minimal contribution of tax reform to price increases, and detailed concrete actions the government is taking to address these.”
But no Neda official said during the briefing that a family could live on just P10,000 a month. —Reports from Jovic Yee, DJ Yap, Jerome Aning and Ben O. de Vera