By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

THE Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) is calling for more funding for the agri-fishery supply chain among the government’s proposed fiscal stimulus measures after logistics gaps during the lockdown hurt farming income.

PCCI in a statement on Monday said that it supports the proposed Philippine Economic Stimulus Act (PESA), which will inject P1.3-P1.4 trillion into the economy from 2020 to 2022 to help businesses recover from the effects of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

The funding includes interest-free loans for micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSME), compensation for paid sick leaves for COVID-19 patients, and wage subsidies. Agriculture and fisheries have a P10-billion loan allocation.

PCCI is urging the government for increased funds for agri-fishery producers to cover loans, guarantees, and grants for inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, crop protectants, feeds, irrigation and machinery, research and development and access to markets.

The group said the funding should also cover food processing, canning, packaging, marketing, and logistics to address supply chain gaps.

PCCI President Benedicto V. Yujuico said food producers lost significant income because of logistics constraints during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ).

“Highly perishable produce have found it difficult to move their way into markets such that they have to be thrown away. The downstream industries such as food processing, retailing and restaurants are similarly impacted having to operate only partially, if at all,” he said.

Mr. Yujuico said agri-fishery producers and related enterprises should be given grants equivalent to what is needed to achieve food sufficiency and security, as well as countryside development.

“The sector has been neglected in the past and it is only now, under crisis, that the sector has been put in the spotlight for its importance in feeding our people and reviving our economy,” he said.

PCCI also said that it appreciates interest-free loans from state banks, but added that implementing rules and regulations from the Finance department and the central bank should provide more flexibility for MSMEs to benefit.

Mr. Yujuico added that the public transportation sector must also be offered subsidies.

“The operation of taxis, transport network vehicle services (TNVS) and public utility vehicles (PUVs) have altogether stopped under the ECQ. Once we graduate to the GCQ (general community quarantine), they can operate but below capacity because of physical distancing and limited workforce. There must be a means to subsidize them to ensure that they will continue to operate and service those who will go back to work,” he said.

Meanwhile, business groups have also expressed support for the recent guidelines from the Trade and Labor departments for workplace health and safety measures for businesses that are allowed to operate.

The Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce of the Philippines (JFC) Senior Adviser John D. Forbes in a mobile message on Sunday said it is in the interest of firms to self-enforce the guidelines.

He said the guidelines work as a better approach than the House Bill 6623 that implements physical distancing norms.

“Guidelines can be changed to suit the circumstances as employers adjust to the post-pandemic environment,” he said.

Makati Business Club Executive Director Francisco Alcuaz Jr. in a mobile message said the guidelines balance having enough detail and leaving room for companies “to comply within their individual conditions”

“We trust that government and private sector will refine these guidelines as the science develops and feedback is received,” he said.

He added that there might be challenges in acquiring the test kits, alcohol, and the necessary personal protective equipment, but that they trust that the government, suppliers, and companies are working to obtain the supply.