Editorial Opinion

Hitting the ceiling

(Published in print in the UPLB Perspective’s February 26, 2022 Vol. 47, Issue 4.) 

Para sa amin, parang harassment ang dating. Kasi naghahanapbuhay ka, gusto mo sumunod, magkakaron ka pa ng violation.” Those were the words of pork vendor Toto Monterillo in an interview with ABS-CBN last February 8, roughly a week after President Duterte signed Executive Order 124 — imposing a 60day price ceiling on pork and chicken products in public markets. But what is a price ceiling anyway? In simple terms, a price ceiling can be imposed by the government when the prices of basic goods are no longer affordable for the regular consumer due to a shortage.

Imposing a price ceiling may seem like the logical thing to do, until one looks at the bigger picture. The truth is, it is only a bandaid solution, an approach too simplistic and one-dimensional. Because although goods become more affordable for the regular customer, it doesn’t exactly address the root of the problem — a shortage in supply.

And the problem was exactly that. Once again, like they often did when COVID-19 cases are on the rise, the administration pins the blame on the people. In a February 11 news report, Department of Agriculture’s William Dar says that the reason meat prices are high is because of traders who artificially manipulate the price by storing meat to create fake shortages.

However, a deeper look into the dire situation of the weakening agricultural sector will reveal the cogs behind the rising market prices for meat. Why is there a shortage of pork in the Philippines? COVID-19 wasn’t the only disease that came from China. In September 2019, the Philippines detected its first case of African Swine Fever (ASF) in backyard farms near the capital. A few months later, just after we detected our first case of COVID-19, another outbreak was reported in a dozen provinces in Davao Occidental.

DA’s response in resolving the animal health crisis was uncannily familiar — a “complete, temporary” lockdown was imposed on pig farms to prevent further spread of the virus. One year from the February 2020 Davao Occidental outbreak, the Philippines has yet to use or develop any vaccines, and has just begun investing P80-million on testing kits developed by researchers from the Central Luzon State University.

Around that time, DA announced that around 431,000 hogs were culled due to the disease, but a source in a SciDev.net interview claims that hog raisers from the private sector estimate that 4.7 million hogs are affected by the disease — roughly 36% of the hog population. Swine inventory growth rate has plummeted while the hog inventory continues to descend. This has consequently affecting the income of hog producers and public market meat resellers in the country.

What the government fails to address are the costs involved before meat even arrives at the local public market. Thousands are spent for feed, utilities, medicines, certificates just to raise swine. More is spent for certificates, license fees, and when the meat is transported from farm to slaughterhouse to palengke. With the price cap imposed, vendors can only earn peanuts from the meat they sell, which could lead to businesses shutting down in the long run.

This, along with the the regime’s anti-people neoliberal policies like the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law and Rice Liberalization Law has only proven itself to be a burden on the Filipino people, drastically raising the price of basic goods, while corporations and foreign industries benefit from tax cuts and profiteering schemes. All the while, the country continues to face a recession intensified by the pandemic, high inflation rates causing the weakening of the peso, astoundingly low wages, and a staggering P10.13-trillion worth of debt.

Adding fuel to the fire, as of writing, Congress has railroaded the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill which, according to IBON Foundation findings, will only give corporations a P133.2 billion tax cut for corporations — far from what the common Filipino needs and deserves.

Lawmakers are forwarding an “economic cha-cha” which compromises national sovereignty. If anything, a progressive taxing system must be imposed on corporations and astoundingly rich individuals in order to procure vaccines, conduct testing and contact tracing, for the economy to return to where it was pre-pandemic. How can Duterte and his economic advisors justify a price cap, when they couldn’t address the root cause of lack of supply? More so, how dare they impose an anti-vendor price cap with the myriad of problems they choose to ignore? The price ceiling is one of many manifestations of the administration’s lack of empathy for ordinary Filipinos who simply try to make ends meet in a pandemic that the national government has neglected.

It then becomes clear that the Duterte regime’s priority is not the people’s welfare, but profit. The government has pitted the ordinary consumer with the nation’s meat vendors, favoring one’s interests over the other, but the people know better. Duterte cannot stretch the economy and the people’s interests thin forever. History tells us that famine and poverty induced by the greed of the ruling class tends to backfire in the long run. [P]

UPLB Perspective is the official student publication of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, established in 1973. It is the first campus publication established under Martial Law in the Philippines.

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