The Philippines is among countries that highly depends on rice as its staple.
This year, issues surrounding the country’s rice supply and the National Food Authority (NFA) made headlines especially when supply of low-priced rice became scarce in local markets.
The NFA blamed the NFA Council for the shortage of NFA rice in markets citing its disapproval of rice importation despite the NFA’s recommendation in 2017.
While the NFA rice ran scarce, the price of commercial rice skyrocketed.
In Zamboanga, rice prices hit a staggering P70 per kilogram.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) blamed rice traders for manipulating market prices taking advantage of the scarcity of NFA rice.
But Secretary Manny Piñol said rice supply was not scarce.
It’s just that traders were controlling the supply.
In fact, the DA discovered thousands of sacks of rice in a warehouse in Bulacan supposedly delivered to local markets.
The issue prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to return the control over the NFA to the DA and appointed Sec. Piñol as chairman of the NFA Council.
Duterte ordered Piñol to fill the markets with commercial rice.
“The best way to address this problem is, I will fill my inventory. I was mad because it was either half full or half empty. Sabi ko guys, I want the rice up there, touching the ceiling of warehouse now,” President Duterte said.
In August, the delivery of five million sacks of rice imported by the NFA arrived in the country.
But the prolonged days of rain delayed the unloading of the rice shipment.
Reports surfaced that the rice shipment were infested by rice weevils and could be harmful for consumption.
But Sec. Piñol himself proved that weevil infestation was not enough reason to say that the shipments were no longer edible.
This sets this year “Bukbok challenge” among government officials and the Secretary himself ate weevil-infected cooked rice to challenge lawmakers criticizing the DA.
Amid speculations of health risks posed by weevils and alleged formalin contamination in galunggong, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol ate cooked weevil-infested rice together with fried galunggong on live television to allay fears.
“Kanin na may bukbok, pwedeng kainin. I’m walking the talk, kapag sinabi kong kaya kong kainin yung bigas na may bukbok, hugasan lang natin, huwag nating kainin ‘yung bukbok,” Se. Piñol said showing on live television that eating weevil-infested rice is safe.
In November, the DA imposed a suggested retail price on commercial rice and banned the use of fancy brand names.
But the DA expressed concern on the impending approval of the proposed Rice Tarrification Act.
Piñol said the proposed law might remove the supply of NFA rice in markets because the measure will strip the NFA of its importation function and importation of rice will be open even to the private sector.
The NFA’s function will also be limited to buffer stocking and they will only be allowed to buy rice from the local farmers’ yield.
“But one thing is certain, there will be no more P27 rice,” Piñol argued.
But Senate Food and Agriculture Committee chair Senator Cynthia Villar countered Piñol’s statement saying the supply of low-priced rice will remain in local markets.
The price of fish and vegetables also hit significant increase this year due to a series of weather disturbances.
A notable increase was in the price of chili which reached to P1,000 per kilogram.
The DA argued, however, that the country has enough supply of vegetables but the problem is how they will be delivered to the municipality in need.
In line with this, the DA launched the ‘Tienda Malasakit Stores’ which sell top quality agricultural products at the price almost 50% off.
Also, the DA imposed suggested retail price on several agriculture products to avoid profiteering.
Due to a series of price hikes, the country’s inflation rate shoots up.
Based on the report of the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the country’s inflation reached the 3.5 mark in 2017 but soared even higher in October 2018 at 6.7.
This development burdened consumers even more.
“Kahit sa gulay dati makabili ka lang ng P10 marami na. sa ngayon konti nalang ang mabili mo kahit sa P10 halos wala ka nang makain sa sampung piso,” said Quezon City resident Sicel Amadeo.
“Minsan di nalang kami bumibili. Tsaga nalang kami sa bagoong… eto yan lang ho. Totoo po lahat. Tulad nyan walang trabaho minsan. Hindi ko na alam kung saan ako lalapit,” said Laura Bagan also a resident of Quezon City.
Among the reasons for the rising inflation, analysts said, was the increase in oil price in the world market.
This prompted a fare hike of minimum fare in jeepney to P10.00 in Metro Manila, Region 3 and other provinces.
But after a week, the minimum fare was reduced to P9.00 as a result of a slight oil price rollback.
Price cuts on oil products were recorded eight times in eight weeks from October to November but drivers and operators argued that these couldn’t surpass the total increase in oil prices this year.
Also among the main reasons for the rising inflation, consumers alleged, was the implementation of the Duterte administration’s Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law which the President signed on December 19, 2017.
The measure aims at funding the government’s ‘Build, build, build’ infrastructure projects through imposition of additional taxes.
During the last quarter of the year, the government’s economic managers recommended the implementation of the second tranche of the TRAIN law after the price of oil soared to P42/L.
But the recommendation was later withdrawn after a series of price rollback in oil which dipped by P12/L in total.
The second tranche of excise tax on oil will add P2.00 more per liter.
This prompted the consumer group ‘Laban Konsyumer’ to ask the Supreme Court to suspend the implementation to TRAIN 2 as it will further burden the consumers.
“Pinapabalewala namin ang batas na iyan, sa tingin po namin ito po’y anti-poor. Anti-poor kasi tinaasan ang excise taxes sa fuel at iba pang produkto tulad ng coal sa mga consumer o mga mahihirap na wala namang kakayahan magbayad ng mataas na buwis,” argued Laban Konsyumer Atty. Vic Dimagiba. – Marje Pelayo (with reports from Rey Pelayo)