By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Department of Agriculture (DA) have jointly conducted joint price monitoring on agricultural basic necessities and prime commodities following the call of President Duterte to resolve the rice crisis and surging prices of basic goods.
Just recently, the DTI and DA representatives visited the Paco Market in Manila where they observed that retailers are selling agricultural products with an average of P10.00 per kilogram price markup which, according to Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez, is still within reasonable profit margin.
Letters of Inquiry (LOI), however, were issued to two retailers of chicken for selling the commodity at a higher price markup, and to one fish vendor for selling milkfish above the Suggested Retail Price (SRP) set by DA.
“These letters of inquiry (LOI) are not meant to condemn the market vendors,” said Lopez, “rather, we want to trace the supply chain and see where profiteering occurs. If we can solve this, the market vendors will get their supplies at lower prices.”
In previous interviews, Lopez said that since farmgate prices of agricultural products are going down, the retail prices should soon follow.
“From farm to consumers, only a P50/kilo mark up should be placed including profit for the entire value chain so chicken should be bought by consumers only at P130/kilo when farmgate price is at P80/kilo,” explained Trade Secretary Lopez. “Price mark up of P10/kilo by vendors is okay but price that vendors buy from traders is too high at P130/kilo is too high when farmgate price is only at P80/kilo.”
The DTI and DA have met with several poultry and livestock producers associations and are now approaching traders to lower the baseline prices of agriculture products. The dialogue, together with the conduct of price monitoring activities will be used in the study of the supply and price situation in the market, from the producers’ side to the distribution chain, and to the market ports.
The trade and agriculture departments vow to regularly conduct intensified price monitoring activities all over the country to ensure the reasonable prices and adequacy of supply of basic and prime goods, especially on agricultural commodities whose prices are most volatile.
Call for NFA abolition intensifies
With the rice crisis hounding the country, the call for the abolition of National Food Authority (NFA) and the appeal for NFA Administrator Jason Aquino to resign have mounted.
Clearly, lawmakers and several groups agree that the two could no longer co-exist.
A group of economists, for instance, issued a statement on Thursday that it supports the call, specifically of Senator Cynthia Villar and Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, to abolish the state-run grains agency.
Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) pointed out that the NFA has only caused and aggravated the rice inflation and rice shortage in several regions, compounded the debt and losses of the national government, and provided opportunities for graft and corruption for its officers and employees, from the purchase of imported rice to the distribution and transportation of subsidized rice.
On the issue of corruption, one of the strongest agriculture lobby groups is now suing NFA Administrator Jason Aquino for allegedly diverting food security funds for other purposes.
Right now, NFA was also being blamed for the rice crisis happening now in Zamboanga, the infestation of 330,000 bags of imported rice with weevils, as well as the continuous increase in the price of rice across the country.
“With high average rice prices and periodic shortages, the NFA has also contributed to the country’s high wage costs and lower competitiveness,” FEF said.
“NFA has been inefficient and clueless in the right timing in the importation of rice and its distribution. The private sector should be free to import rice from any source in whatever quantities the market needs. This is the only solution to the current rice shortage crisis and to the pervasive malnutrition caused by high food prices,” it added.
House Appropriations Committee Chairperson, Davao City 1st District Rep. KarloNogralessaid the NFA should have been more proactive in responding to the country’s rice supply situation, particularly in stabilizing prices of the staple grain.
Nograles stated this following the NFA Council’s decision to approve the importation of 132,000 metric tons (MT) of rice to stabilize rice prices.
Nograles lamented that action could have been taken sooner to prevent the rice prices from getting out of hand.
But President Duterte is giving the NFA a chance to do its job of ensuring a stable rice situation in the country, according to a Palace official.
Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go said the President expects the NFA to boost the country’s rice stock amid concerns over the reported supply and price problems in Zamboanga and nearby provinces.
Piñol enjoys Duterte’s trust
Meanwhile, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol continues to enjoy the trust and confidence of President Duterte, Malacañang said Thursday amid calls for his resignation over the reported rice shortage in the country.
“Unless fired, yes,” Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a text message to reporters when asked if Piñol still has the President’s trust.
Opposition lawmakers have reportedly called on Piñol and other food security officials to resign for alleged incompetence in addressing the rice supply and price problems in some parts of the country.
Piñol has been criticized for the proposing the importation of more rice and fish as well as the alleged legalization of rice smuggling in parts of Mindanao.
The agriculture chief, however, has left to the President’s discretion whether or not he will stay in his Cabinet post.
“On their call for my resignation because of these issues, my response would be: I serve at the pleasure of the President,” Piñol said in a Facebook post last Wednesday.
“If the President says he is not happy with my performance, I would gladly pack up my bags and go home to my farm,” he added. (With reports from Madelaine B. miraflor, Genalyn D. Kabiling and Ellson A. Quismorio)