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Opinion

No vision on food, no urgency on fuel

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The President said Sunday the country must ensure grain security and rely on the domestic market to sustain production. Food is as essential as industrialization and must not rely on the international market, he said. His remarks came amid disruption to the global grain supply chain from the conflict between top grain producers Russia and Ukraine.

That president is Xi Jinping. He envisions stabilizing China’s food and corn production, and expanding soybean and oilseed output to ensure “Chinese bowls are mainly filled with Chinese food,” Reuters reported. The strategy is to develop the seed industry for self-reliance, because seed security is “related to national security.”

In the Philippines, the opposite is happening. Government is over-importing food and animal feeds. It even slashes import duties, ostensibly to keep consumer prices low. But market-goers do not see the promised price respite.

Filipino producers are left to fend for themselves. Most of the imports come from China.

Chinese chicken flooded the market starting 2020. At the time, domestic poultrymen were reeling from low demand due to pandemic lockdowns of restaurants and school, office and factory canteens.

As feed demand dropped too, corn farmers suffered. Still government imported corn to offset the price spike of US soybean, a feeds ingredient delayed by port congestion.

Government lowered to only 30 percent the 50-percent tariff on rice imports. Palay farmers’ prices not only fell, but funds to buy up their harvest also depleted.

For six months now, government has been importing galunggong, bonito, tanigue, mackerel, tuna and sardines from China. Little aid goes to repairing boats and nets damaged by typhoon. None to protect fishermen from Chinese maritime militia who poach in Philippine waters. Ironically, the stolen fish are sold to Filipinos. In China, communist commissars justify the higher fish rates because supposedly caught in their waters that “Filipinos are grabbing.”

Vegetable and fruit producers not only must contend with cheap imports from China. Smuggling of carrots, onion, garlic and ginger also thrives.

Luzon piggeries fell to African swine fever. Four times the projected pork shortage was brought in, at only five- to ten-percent tariff instead of 30. Government was unable to raise the funds needed to buy and bury diseased hogs to stem the epidemic.

Government is presently importing sugar, right in the middle of the milling season. Bankrupted planters may no longer afford inputs for the next cropping year.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is further pushing up oil and gas prices already soaring from global economic recovery. Tankers near the war zone are being blocked and international traders are speculating. Expensive fuel is pushing up the cost of food production and transport.

Yet government seems to have no sense of urgency. Farmers, fishermen and transporters of harvest direly need fuel subsidies. Their irrigation pumps, hand tractors, threshers, harvesters, boat engines, pond aerators, trailer-jeeps and public transport must keep running.

Pump prices of diesel already rose in 2021 by P15.80 and gasoline by P16.30 a liter. Since January, diesel further zoomed by P17.50 and gasoline by P13.25 a liter.

Yesterday, another P5.85 was added to diesel and P3.60 to gasoline. On Tuesday, analysts forecast another P12 increase on diesel and P8 on gasoline.

All the while bureaucrats are blaming Congress. Supposedly lawmakers have not revisited the Oil Deregulation Act. Yet yesterday, department secretaries were absent from an emergency hearing of the House fuel crisis ad hoc committee. That superbody combines the powerful committees on ways and means, economic affairs, transportation and energy. Mere underlings of six Cabinet members attended. One of them made a presentation although abroad; none could commit on a policy to stabilize food and fuel prices.

FUEL

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