Senate panels meet today to tackle soaring food prices

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    AS households continue to struggle with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Senate committee on agriculture, food and agrarian reform will sit down today with government leaders to come up with a strategy to stabilize the soaring prices of food commodities.

    The Senate panel hearing will be done jointly with the committee on trade, commerce, and entrepreneurship based on three resolutions – Senate Resolution No. 611 filed by Sen. Leila de Lima, SRN 618 filed by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, and SRN 619 filed by Sen. Imee Marcos.

    The agriculture committee is chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar.

    Pangilinan said the Senate will come up with guidelines, including the imposition of sanctions, to ensure private sector compliance to the executive order which Malacañang said President Duterte will issue that will apply price ceilings on food products.

    “The Department of Trade and Industry has the power to revoke business permits once there is violation of the Consumer Price Act,” Pangilinan said in an interview with dzRH.

    Pangilinan said senators will likewise inquire during the hearing how the Department of Agriculture spent the P24 billion in emergency and stimulus funds that was allocated under the Bayanihan 2 law.

    “Are the funds being utilized? We will raise that [today]. We will ask the status of the assistance to the agriculture sector and to the companies. And now that prices of food are rising, is the DA using its [budget] wisely?” he added.

    In a privilege speech last week, Pangilinan said prices of food sharply increased due to the drop in supply caused by the lockdowns, successive typhoons during the last quarter of 2020 which destroyed crops, and the African swine flu.

    He also said that the closing of the fishing season during the cold months “made supplies of pork and fish and vegetables scarce.”

    “The rising food prices may also be due to the detrimental effects of the flood of imported goods and food imports. More Filipino farmers seemed discouraged from planting after consecutive losses and cheaper food imports ease their produce out of the market,” he said.

    Meanwhile, Sen. Imee Marcos called on the government to prevent pork importers from taking over local market supply and pushing Filipino producers out of business.

    Marcos was reacting to reports that the DA is eyeing to triple pork imports to stabilize the minimum access volume of pork this year.

    “The slaughter of our local hog raisers will begin if the Department of Agriculture executes its plan to raise the minimum access volume of pork imports by as much as three times the present 54,000 metric tons,” said Marcos in a statement Sunday.

    “The DA may be overcompensating in its rush to increase imports to reduce consumer prices. It may deal the coup de grace to our pork industry before Vietnam could release a vaccine against African swine fever later this year,” she added.

    Marcos said the DA should instead speed up its probe into the hoarding of pork products that could have caused the artificial hike in market prices amid the spread of ASF.

    She said that reports on the prices of pork imports from the US, Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Brazil suggested excessive profits were being made at the expense of the consumers.

    She said that for instance, the import cost of a 40-foot container of frozen pork belly (liempo) from Spain is P117.87 per kilo, already including a 40 percent tariff.

    The average price of pork belly in the country at present is more than P400 per kilo.

    Besides arresting hoarders and profiteers, Marcos said the government can help lower prices of meat by subsidizing the cost of transporting pork products to Luzon.

    Marcos said the DA’s spending must be investigated as the agency “got the single biggest item for emergency and stimulus funding under Bayanihan 2 amounting to P24 billion.”