Repression of profiteers and easing of blockages among food security priorities

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According to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque, around half of the Filipino population suffers from hunger and food insecurity – a situation that has been exacerbated over the past year by COVID lockdowns -19 and economic difficulties.

“It is the state’s obligation to ensure that all Filipinos have enough food, [thus] we need a new one [food security] strategy in place because COVID-19 has completely changed our daily life ”,Roque said in an official press release.

“To that end, the President is currently considering the proposal to place the whole of the Philippines under Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ) from March 1 to address increased hunger. [from] food insecurity and poverty.

MGCQ is the most relaxed form of lockdown in the Philippines where physical presence in the workplace is allowed for non-high risk employees, all public places can operate at 50% capacity and public transport can also operate at a capacity as high as social distancing checks allow.

If approved, that would primarily mean changes for the country’s major cities and urban areas like Manila and Davao – which are also localities that contribute the most to the number of COVID-19 cases.

“The National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) carried out a study which revealed prolonged blockages [will cause] 23.7 million more people suffer from hunger, 4.5 million more fall into poverty ”,said Roque.

In addition to easing lockdowns to revive the economy, Duterte also ordered the arrest and punishment of food profiteers, whether cartels or individuals.

These orders were signed at a Cabinet meeting earlier this month, at which the Ministry of Agriculture (DA) and the Ministry of Trade and Industry (DTI) will create and lead a sub-group. of work on economic intelligence for ‘go after’smugglers, profiteers and food grabbers.

In addition, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was also tasked with investigating “Groups or individuals”Suspected of cartel activity or price manipulation, especially for pork whose prices have skyrocketed to some PHP 320 (US $ 6.61) per kg (up to PHP 450 / US $ 9.30 in Metro Manila) this year compared to an average of PHP 200 (US $ 4.13) in 2020 due to shortages.

The order was issued through Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who authorized the NBI to “Investigate and build a case”.

“[If evidence is found, charges will be filed] specifically on the existence and functioning of certain groups allegedly manipulating the supply and price of pork and other staple foods’,Declared Guevarra when placing the order (departmental decree n ° 029). Infractions will be considered violations of Philippine price law and punished accordingly.

The Philippine pig supply was severely affected by African swine fever (ASF) in 2020, with more than 300,000 pigs slaughtered due to the disease, representing around 3% of the population according to government figures; as well as import and demand problems caused by the pandemic.

Other measures to tackle the pork shortage

Earlier this month, the DA also put in place price caps for pork in Metro Manila, where price increases have been most dramatic, in a bid to curb those continued increases after Duterte signed Executive Decree (EO) 124 to implement it.

The goal is to reduce the prices of pork by at least a third in order to allow the long-suffering public to buy them, and to fix the prices of pork (stake, cut thigh) at PHP 270 ($ 5.58 US) per kg and pork belly at PHP 300. (US $ 6.20) per kg. Chicken prices have also been capped at PHP 160 per kg.

The price cap is expected to be in place until at least April 8, and the DA is also working to triple pork imports for the year to increase local supply.

“We are studying the tripling of the minimum access volume of the meat import allowance, from 54,000 MT to 162,000 MT this yearDA secretary William Dar told the House committees on agriculture and food, and trade and industry at a high-level meeting.

Not a long term solution

Despite all these plans, there is still dissension within Duterte’s cabinet over the effectiveness of these measures, especially in the long term, and instead calls for focusing more resources on the local pork industry.

“While the current food price crisis demands immediate action, we must not ignore the fact that this is only a symptom of our structural vulnerabilities. As such, our actions must always have a structural and long-term vision ”,Albay District Representative Joey Salceda said at the same high-level meeting.

“[We need to build a support system] make the Philippine pork industry competitive, not just address these shortcomings [short-term] via import – This will include modernization of logistics, post-harvest facilities, support for the production of inputs such as feed and more efficient value chains. “

Salceda also underlined the need for rapid action in these areas, because without solving the fundamental problems, the problem is likely to “get worse every year”.

“[Our] the population increases by 1% to 2% per cent each year, [and] with COVID-19, we expect a baby boom [with] no more mouths to feed ”,he said.

“[Rising] wealth also leads to increased demand for food, [so] As we move from a lower middle income economy to an upper middle income economy, our demand for food will grow faster than our own population.

Duterte’s plans to ease lockdown measures have also been criticized by other politicians such as Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri, who urged Duterte to wait for vaccinations to take place before considering a move as well. important.

“[When] how many millions of Filipinos we have already vaccinated, so maybe we can start with the MGCQ. But I think this is the safest route to take – [Under MGCQ] everyone can go out freely and you know sometimes we forget our rules [so it’s] very difficult to control.he said Source.


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