Supply delays push prices up as LGUs keep stopping trucks
MANILA, Philippines — Ignoring President Rodrigo Duterte’s warning not to abuse their authority during the monthlong Luzon quarantine, local governments are still turning away food trucks at checkpoints, causing supply gaps that, according to the Department of Agriculture, have pushed prices up by as much as 46 percent.
Duterte early on Friday told local governments to follow guidelines laid down by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, which had mandated unhampered movement of cargoes despite the lockdown imposed on the entire Luzon to halt the spread of the new coronavirus in the country.
But Agriculture Secretary William Dar on Wednesday said that in the last 10 days, the prices of some foods had increased mainly due to failure of deliveries caused by the refusal of authorities manning the checkpoints to allow food trucks through.
Prices of vegetables, for example, have significantly risen because local government directives inconsistent with those of the national government are being enforced at the checkpoints.
“We would like to emphasize that the threat of hunger is as real as the threat of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the new coronavirus). I believe my colleagues in the task force agree with me on the matter, hence our unified call to conquer this threat by allowing free movement in the food value chain,” Dar said.
“Our actual monitoring and projections in production show that we have enough (food supplies). We just need to move the supplies from their origins to areas where they are most needed,” he added.
According to the agriculture department’s price monitoring reports, prices of basic goods in Metro Manila public markets have risen by 5 percent to 46 percent, mainly affecting vegetables, fish and meat.
For instance, a kilo of “bangus,” tilapia and “galunggong” went for P169, P125 and P190 on March 12. By March 21, however, the same fishes were priced at P177.50, P132 and P200 a kilo on the average.
Vegetable prices have risen the highest. Ampalaya, “sitaw” and eggplant sold for P77, P75 and P56 a kilo on March 12. But by March 21, these vegetables were going for P94, P88 and P82 a kilo.
Garlic, mostly imported from China, showed a 25-percent increase in price—to P350 from P280 a kilo during the same period.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Rosendo So, chair of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura, said authorities at some checkpoints along the expressways had been cooperative in recent days, allowing food trucks through. But the problem comes after the truckers have delivered their cargoes and they turn around to leave Metro Manila.
“Some suppliers are refused passage at the checkpoints because their trucks are empty,” So said, adding that the suppliers had to explain to the authorities that their trucks were empty because they had already delivered their load to markets in the metropolis.
In the worst cases, he said, the suppliers had to call the agriculture department for help.
Local governments’ insistence on enforcing their own quarantine rules was blamed for the difficulties that 40 truck drivers and helpers went through at the Port of Masbate earlier this week.
Port officials refused entry to 20 trucks carrying food and medical supplies because they came from coronavirus-wracked Metro Manila.
The trucks left the Port of Pio Duran in Albay province on March 20 and arrived in Masbate the next day. But Masbate port officials, invoking a local lockdown order, refused to allow the trucks through, saying the drivers and helpers might be infected with the coronavirus.
“We have gone past too many checkpoints, nearly 40, but we have been allowed through,” one of the drivers said. “But when we got here in Masbate, we weren’t allowed. they said we might be sick. They said we might be carrying the virus.”
The driver said port officials told them their cargo could be unloaded at the port, but they could not go in. The truckers refused, saying they had to deliver the cargo in the city.
The truckers returned to Pio Duran, where they stayed in their trucks for days because no one offered them shelter or food. They said they spent their own money to get food, but they didn’t have much and knew they would soon have nothing to eat.
The interagency task force came to their rescue. Ernie Vera, the task force chair for Bicol, ordered Masbate Gov. Antonio Kho to comply with the quarantine guidelines on unrestricted movement of cargoes and allow the trucks to deliver their loads.
The trucks were allowed into Masbate on Wednesday.
No watermelon buyers
Local travel restrictions enforced at checkpoints have also been blamed for the fall in watermelon prices in Infanta town, Quezon province.
“Normally our watermelon costs P20 a kilo. It is now P10 a kilo but still no buyers are coming,” Charlotte Sollano, a watermelon grower from Barangay Pinaglapatan, told the Inquirer in an interview on Wednesday.
The problem, she said, is that most buyers are from “out of town” and they are refused entry at the checkpoints.
In a post on her Facebook page, Sollano narrated the plight of watermelon growers in Infanta and appealed to the local government to allow buyers through so that the farmers could sell their produce.
When reached for comment, Infanta Mayor Filipina Grace America said vehicles carrying food could come and go provided they had the necessary government documents to show at the checkpoints.
The problem, she said, is that watermelon buyers are using public utility vehicles like jeepneys and tricycles to transport produce. These vehicles are banned during the quarantine.
To help solve the growers’ problem, America said she would offer use of government vehicles to transport watermelon to out-of-town buyers and markets.
Meanwhile, the agriculture department is asking for a larger supplemental budget to boost the Philippines’ food production following the tightening of world supplies due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dar said local farms must be expanded to increase production and ensure there would be no shortfalls in supplies of basic commodities.
The agriculture department has proposed a supplemental budget of P32 billion. Among the plans is allocating P7 billion to boost the National Food Authority’s procurement budget to increase its rice reserves, P8.5 billion to improve rice production, and P10 billion to upgrade the department’s Kadiwa outlets.
—With reports from Delfin T. Mallari Jr., Maricar Cinco, Mar Arguelles and Stephen C. Canivel
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