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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Sad, but…

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Sad, but…the parting came too soon and the bitter denouement will linger for years

Let me begin by wishing former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada a belated happy birthday with the wish that he is granted many more years. The former San Juan mayor turned senator, then vice-president, then president and mayor of Manila after a highly successful movie career, turned 87 last April 19.

And what a day April 19, 2024 turned out to be.

First off, I woke up that morning with the passed-on video trailer of Anthony Taberna’s “epic” interview of the first lady, where she minced no words about her displeasure with the vice president.

Later that morning, news came in about Israel’s retaliatory bombing of a military facility in Isfahan inside Iran. This, after Iran sent drones and missiles raining down Israel’s sky, mercifully intercepted before it could create damage to Israel days before.

The whole world teetered in anxiety over the extent of Israel’s attack against Iran, until later in the day no heavy damage or casualties happened. Some relief though the anxiety continues.

Domestically though, the on-going center of attention is the Taberna interview while awaiting our vice-president’s response which, as of yesterday, has not come out.

As has been widely predicted, the elected UniTeam is sundered, even if in Friday’s PNPA event, our two top elected officials seemed to be “normally cordial” in each other’s presence.

Sad, but…the parting came too soon and the bitter denouement will linger for years.

Sad, but … life must go on.

Rather than dwell this time on the parting of ways, just like two kibitzers, the mayors of the largest capital cities which are home to FL’s ancestors, who immediately asked the vice president to resign from the Cabinet, I would rather move on and delve into other topics of continuing national concern.

That’s the food situation, highlighted by another predictable result by March surveys, whether by Pulse or Octa, that identified food prices, along with the lack of gainful employment, as the “kalbaryo” of the ordinary man.

“Pitik,” which former NEDA Director-General Cielito Habito coined to mean Presyo, Trabaho at Kita, since famously turned into an advertising slogan by Sen. Alan Cayetano 10 years back.

As it was then, so is it now, and “pitik” still is the country’s major, major problem.

Again, headline inflation is about rice.

In early September 2017, this writer, informed by senior and long-time NFA career officials about their precarious inventory position, passed on the alarm to then President Duterte in a meeting at Malacanang to report on Taiwan matters.

Duterte directed me to write him an executive memo that afternoon about the rice problem and my proposed courses of action.

The memo was passed on to the NFA administrator as well as the presidential adviser on food security, but with little action done on the proposals; 2018 came and the prices of rice shot up, even if no strong typhoon in the September-October harvest season triggered shortages later that year as I feared.

When the inevitable happened, Duterte exasperatedly took a decisive action, an in-character variation of my written proposal for him to call the big rice traders to a meeting at the palace, and ask them to release their stocks to cool the market down.

I wrote in that memo the big rice traders would surely comply with his “appeal” as he had highly persuasive powers.

What FPRRD did, as the executive secretary confided to me, was that he called one of the biggest rice traders on the phone, and in no uncertain terms, “threatened” him “unless…”

The week after that phone call, the shortages in NCR abated, and more rice stocks were found in the markets. Prices stopped rising, some even tapering down.

Of course, the economic managers went into their own version of “action” after that price crisis.

They crafted legislation lifting the quantitative restrictions on rice importation that opened the market totally to the private traders and reduced the market intervention and regulatory powers of NFA to nada as in zilch.

An obedient Congress passed RA 11203, known as the Rice Tarrification Law swiftly.

That time (2018), the lowest grade of rice (25 percent brokens) was selling at 27 pesos from NFA-licensed retailers.

The premise of the RTL was with rice importation liberalized, consumer prices will stabilize, while the proceeds from tarrification would go to our palay farmers through a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund that would eventually improve productivity and thus bring down prices.

Today, the lowest price in the wet markets is at 48 pesos, and the average NCR consumer pays 55 pesos per kilo for rice that is a tad more palatable than the 48 peso regular-milled. (to be continued)

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