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Philippines Reports Budget Surplus in Early 2024, Aiming for Fiscal HealthPhilippine Senate Reviews Medical Cannabis Bill to Aid PatientsEl Niño Influences Slight Rise in Occidental Mindoro’s February Inflation

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Finance (DOF) has revealed that the Philippine government achieved a notable budget surplus in the initial months of 2024, signaling a positive trend in the nation's fiscal management.

According to Philippines News Agency, the surplus is attributed to significant year-on-year revenue growth coupled with measured increases in government spending.

During a briefing related to the Philippines' hosting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) Roundtable, Secretary Recto announced that for January and February 2024, government revenues were up by 20 percent compared to the same period in the previous year, while expenditures increased by only 10 percent. This fiscal performance resulted in a substantial budget surplus, highlighting effective revenue collection and expenditure management.

Data from the Bureau of the Treasury underscored this achievement, showing an impressive PHP88 billion surplus in January alone, nearly doubling the surplus recorded in January 2023. The increase in total revenues, which reached PHP421.8 billion for the month, surpassed the PHP348.2 billion recorded the previous year, while government spending was contained at PHP333.99 billion.

Secretary Recto emphasized the DOF's ongoing efforts to bolster the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC), focusing on enhancing tax collection efficiency. By providing these agencies with detailed data analyses, the government aims to identify key areas and entities for targeted tax collection efforts.

Looking ahead, the Development Budget Coordination Committee has set an ambitious revenue target of PHP4.3 trillion for the year. Achieving this goal would represent a significant step toward sustaining the Philippines' fiscal health and supporting its broader economic objectives.

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Robinhood Padilla has successfully advanced the Cannabis Medicalization Act of the Philippines, or Senate Bill (SB) No. 2573, to the Senate plenary, highlighting a potential shift in the country's approach to medical cannabis. The bill, endorsed by 13 senators under Committee Report No. 210, aims to establish a regulated framework for the medical use of cannabis, ensuring access for qualified patients while maintaining strict oversight.

According to Philippines News Agency, SB 2573 is designed with robust safeguards to monitor the entire process from cultivation to patient delivery, employing electronic systems to ensure compliance with legal standards. The bill specifies that only patients who meet certain qualifications will be allowed to use cannabis for therapeutic purposes within designated facilities.

Key provisions in SB 2573 include restrictions on physicians, who must possess an S2 license to prescribe medical cannabis. Prescriptions would be prohibited if patients do not meet the criteria, if the intended use is not for a specific medical condition, or if the dosage exceeds the patient's needs. Additionally, medical practitioners are barred from prescribing cannabis to themselves or their close relatives.

Senator Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa, chair of the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs, expressed his support for the bill, referencing the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002, which emphasizes the need for balance in drug control to ensure patients have access to necessary medications. Dela Rosa affirmed that the bill aligns with government policies and would provide significant relief to patients suffering from various ailments.

Under the proposed legislation, the Philippine Medical Cannabis Authority (PMCA) would be established within the Department of Health (DOH), mirroring the structure of Israel's Medical Cannabis Agency. The PMCA would be responsible for issuing permits, regulating medical cannabis use, and overseeing industry participants. It would also spearhead research and development initiatives and maintain a registry of patients and approved products.

An advisory committee, led by the DOH Secretary and including key agency heads, would provide additional oversight and guidance. Patients would be required to register with the PMCA to receive an identification number and a QR-coded registry card.

The list of permissible medical cannabis products includes edibles, pills, oils, tinctures, flowers, topicals, and inhalers, with the goal of providing varied and appropriate options for patient treatment. As the bill progresses through the Senate, stakeholders anticipate a comprehensive debate on its provisions and potential impacts on healthcare and drug policy in the Philippines.

OCCIDENTAL MINDORO, Philippines - The inflation rate in Occidental Mindoro witnessed a modest increase in February, registering at 4.2 percent, up from 3.9 percent in January, amid ongoing challenges posed by the El Niño weather phenomenon. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has linked this slight uptick to rising prices in specific commodity groups, including food and beverages, transport, and information and communication sectors.

According to Philippines News Agency, the increase in Occidental Mindoro contrasts with the broader trend in the Mimaropa region, which encompasses Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan, where inflation is on a downward trajectory. Maribel Bernardo, chief statistical specialist at the PSA's Occidental Mindoro Statistical Office, highlighted that despite the February rise, the province's inflation rate remains notably lower than the 8.7 percent experienced in February of the previous year.

The report identifies the food sector as the primary driver of last month's inflation, particularly pointing to cereals, vegetables, and meats as significant contributors. Nonetheless, some relief came from lower price increases in other essential food items like fish, dairy products, and fruits, indicating a mixed inflationary landscape within the province.

Emerson Kim Lineses, a chief economic development specialist with the National Economic and Development Authority in Mimaropa, emphasized that the duration and severity of El Niño could further impact regional inflation. Occidental Mindoro has been particularly hard-hit, with adverse effects on agriculture contrasting with less affected neighboring areas.

Amid these challenges, experts like Roberto Galang, dean of the Ateneo de Manila's John Gokongwei School of Management, stress the importance of timely responses from local government units (LGUs) to drought conditions. Proactive declaration of states of calamity can enable more effective mitigation and aid measures. Following recommendations from the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (PDRRMC), Occidental Mindoro is moving towards declaring a state of calamity due to significant agricultural losses exacerbated by El Niño and an armyworm infestation, with estimated damages reaching substantial figures.

As the region navigates these climate-related adversities, authorities and stakeholders are closely monitoring the situation, prepared to implement further strategies to alleviate the impact on the local economy and residents' livelihoods.