January and February saw the country gearing up in preparation for the return to normal life with the arrival of the Covid 19 vaccines.
I believe it is our responsibility to ensure the welfare of our fellow consumers as we continue to endure through the pandemic and its impact on our economy, and here I have found much encouragement from friends in media and news outlets who picked up and expanded the reach of our group’s statements on relevant consumer issues.
I wrote that in the stand-off between the agriculture department and the hog raisers, importers and market vendors, we the consumers continue to bear the brunt of high prices of pork and chicken. The DA blamed traders and wholesalers of pork for price manipulation while hog raisers demanded the resignation of the DA Secretary; hog raisers feel the brunt of the lingering Asian Swine Flu decimating local supply; importers batted for import permits with lower tariff and market vendors complained of losing profits due to high transfer prices from traders. At the end of this chain are we the consumers facing as much as P450 for a kilo of liempo.
In the Senate hearing, I offered information that the implementing agencies under the Price Act, such as the DTI and the DA are authorized to provide a Buffer Fund allocation in their regular annual budget appropriations which shall be used for purposes of ensuring stable supply of basic necessities and prime commodities at reasonable prevailing prices. This provision of the Price Act has not been utilized since1992. Present circumstances justify the use of Section 9 of the Price Act.
On my manifestation, the Senate committee on food, agriculture and agrarian reform issued a Committee Resolution that requires the Economic Intelligence Task Force created by the President to submit the results of their investigation into allegations of price manipulation, profiteering and cartel in the meat industry, which is also blamed for the high prices of pork and chicken. The government should not hesitate to file cartel charges if hog growers and traders were found engaging in anti-competitive practice and restricting the supply of pork products, resulting in higher prices at retail markets.
Further, I believe that with the difficulty of job security due to the pandemic we may yet see the consumers shifting from buying meat products to cheaper basic necessities and prime commodities or not buying meat products at all. In hindsight, with the spectacle of market vendors declaring wildcat meat holidays, the shift in consumer spending may not be all that bad– it can possibly lead to a shift to healthier diets! However, the “pork and chicken wars” are very alarming because they reveal that the consumers’ right of access to meat products is effectively denied due to unreasonably high prices.
Another issue where I was able to steer the public conversation to is the alarming decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission increasing the Feed in Tariff (FIT). In January, I filed a Petition to repeal this decision.
The Petition and the Opposition are consistent with the energy policy statement that the development of the renewable energy resources for power shall be cheaper for the consumers. Due to the ERC decision, renewable energy has resulted in higher costs for electricity consumers in the Philippines. I sought the repeal of the increases in FIT which is a fixed amount of money paid to renewable energy resources developers by the government. This is because the funds for FIT actually come from the consumers who pay the FIT administrator from what is called as FIT Allowance in their electricity bills.
Another problem is the extension of the no disconnection grace period for certain electricity consumers. This move allows consumers to merely pile their debts one on top of each other and makes the power supply chain suffer. The electric cooperatives are the biggest victims, to the detriment of the energy sector.
I opposed the plan of the National Power Corporation to increase the universal charges for the missionary electrification to P0.20 per kwh from the current P0.15 per kwh. I cross-examined the NPC witness to determine if the increase was truly reasonable, or at least cost to the consumers, and justified.
I intervened in the petition to increase the Feed in Tariff Allowance to P0.20 per kwh from the current P0.09 per kwh.
On a bright note, I supported without qualification the petition filed by Meralco to refund to the Meralco customers the sum of P0.27 per kwh for residential customers on a provisional authority.
Finally, my participation in the drafting of the Revised Consumer Act of the Philippines was acknowledged by Committee on Trade and Industry of the House of Representatives. The Senate is deliberating its version of the Enhanced Consumer Act of the Philippines
Atty. Vic Dimagiba is President of Laban Konsyumer Inc.