PRIVILEGE SPEECH ON RISING FOOD PRICES

Thank you very much, Mr. President, Majority Leader, distinguished colleagues, good afternoon.

I rise before you on a matter of personal and collective privilege.

The issue facing us is just as important as the Covid vaccine and its prices, if not more so: food. Or more specifically, the rice in prices of food.

For the past few weeks, at the start of the new year, the prices of a number of commodities in the market have continued to soar. Hindi mapigilang mapa-aray ang mga namamalengke dahil sa sobrang taas na presyo ng mga bilihin. Hindi na malaman ng mga maybahay paano pagkakasyahin ang karampot na kinikita ni mister.

In its January 18 Bantay Presyo monitoring two days ago, the Department of Agriculture reported the prevailing prices of the following items per kilo: regular milled rice, 38 pesos; galunggong, 280 pesos; dressed chicken, 180 pesos; liempo, 450 pesos; talong, 200 pesos; repolyo, 230 pesos; and siling labuyo, 1,000 pesos.

Sabi na nga iba, ‘wag daw masamain kung pagdating ng valentines ay isang supot ng sili ang pasalubong imbes na bulaklak, dahil ibig sabihin daw nito, sobrang mahal talaga.

Pero sa totoo lang, hindi na biro at hindi biro ang presyo ng mga bilihin. Sa mga karinderya, halos bente pesos na ang takal ng kanin, at ang sabaw na dating libre, may bayad na. Maging ang gravy na ginagawang pangsabaw sa kanin ng ilan nating madiskarteng kababayan, may bayad na rin sa fast food.

Sa gitna ng isang pandemyang nag-alis na mga hanapbuhay ng milyon-milyong mga kababayan natin, seryosong tanong: Ano ang mabibili ng 500 pesos mo?

Maraming memes at jokes ang umiikot sa social media. Dinadaanan na lang nating mga Pinoy sa biro ang ating pagkadismaya sa taas ng presyo ng bilihin. Pero seryosong bagay ito dahil ang usapin ng pagkain ay usapin ng sikmura. Usapin din ng kalusugan.

A survey of SWS, last September 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, showed that families who experienced involuntary hunger or hunger due to lack of food reached a new record-high of 30.7 percent, or an estimated 7.6 million households. That is almost one in every three Filipinos.

Habang tumataas ang presyo ng pagkain, lalo pang dadami ang magugutom.

According to Unicef, a third of children in the Philippines are stunted. Muli, isa sa tatlong bata ay nababansot. Tatlumpung porsyento ng ating mga anak ay bansot o nababansot.

The Philippines ranks fifth among countries in the East Asia and Pacific Region with the highest stunting prevalence and one of 10 countries with the highest number of stunted children in the world.

The World Health Organization estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic may cause stunting among children under five years old if no mitigating interventions are put in place.

Food prices are on the rise because food supply dropped due to, among others, the series of pandemic lockdowns. The successive typhoons in the last quarter of 2020 destroyed crops, and the African swine flu and the closed fishing season during the cold months made supplies of pork and fish and vegetables scarce.

The effects of the African swine flu are devastatingly real for small-scale hog raisers, including broadcaster Cito Beltran, who shared in his column that after 15 years of breeding and raising domesticated and wild pigs, he had “depopulated” his backyard hog farm, and lost 75 to 80 pigs in the process. He tells of others who have lost 1,700 to 6,000 pigs.” Sabi nga niya, ASF ang Covid ng mga baboy.

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

Despite the DA’s decision in December to stop the issuance of rice import permits, our rice imports are expected to settle at 2.3 million metric tons, which most likely will still make the Philippines the world’s number one rice importer.

Until the latter part of 2020, the poultry industry had already lost 95 billion pesos due to subsidized chicken imports, while domestic poultry feed sales lost another 14 billion pesos.

And as Senate Majority Leader Migz Zubiri pointed out, from being a sugar exporter, the Philippines is now a sugar importer as farmers continue to suffer from the low sugarcane yield.

Napakasakit kahit walang sakit. Dahil na rin sa pandemya, marami ang nawalan ng trabaho at nagsarang mga negosyo. Kung hindi namamalimos tulad ng mga jeepney driver, forced I.F. ang tawag o forced intermittent fasting ang maraming kababayan natin. Kumakain na lang kung meron. Sumasala na sa oras ang marami.

Kaya kung wala nang sweldong itataas, dapat sigurong tutukang maibaba ang presyo ng mga bilihin.

Alam ng mga kababayan natin na gutom ang mas matinding kalaban kaysa sa Covid, kaya nga noong mga unang buwan ng pandemic, marami ang naglalakad nang malayo makapasok lang sa trabaho. Takot sila sa Covid pero takot silang magutom ang kanilang mahal sa buhay, ang kanilang mga anak, ang kanilang mga sarili.

These food supply shortages and the resulting hunger may cause greater and long-term devastation than the Covid virus itself.

Hindi natin pwedeng sabihin sa mga kababayan natin na ‘stay healthy’ habang hinihintay ang bakuna kung wala namang makain o kaya napakataas ng presyo ng pagkain.

In fairness to DA Secretary Willy Dar, hindi naman siya natutulog sa pansitan.

To stabilize the supply and price of pork, the DA is looking to increase shipments of hogs from Visayas, Mindanao, and other ASF-free areas or “green zones” in Luzon, while also encouraging pork imports from ASF-free countries.

I also believe that he caused the President to sign this January 15, Executive Order No. 123, retaining the tariff rate of imported mechanically deboned meat of chicken and turkey at 5 percent until end of 2022. This would help ensure the continued supply at stable prices of canned and processed meat products.

But as we regulate the food imports, we must also push for fully and implement the Sagip Saka law, which was signed in May of 2019.

The Sagip Saka law or Republic Act 11321 is a comprehensive approach to the weak Philippine agriculture sector by, among other things, pegging the standard of success of agriculture not only to yields, irrigated lands, mechanized farms, and such results but also to the incomes, general well-being of Filipino farmers. Let us realize this law by fully implementing Sagip Saka or RA 11321.

Kapag kumikita ang ating mga magsasaka, sila ay mas maeengganyong magtanim. At pag mas marami silang ani, mas mababa ang presyo ng mga bilihin sa palengke.

Let us recall that during the pandemic last year, agriculture was the only sector that grew. If this trajectory continues, agriculture could be a major driver of growth, it would give income to the farmers as well as increase food supply in the market leading to lower prices and food for all. Three birds with one stone.

May pandemya man o wala, kailangan nating kumain, kaya nandyan dapat ang sapat na suplay ng pagkain na mabibili sa abot-kayang halaga.

Finally, THIS REPRESENTATION FILED PROPOSED Senate Resolution 618 SEEKING FOR an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on rising food prices — with the end in view of determining other interventions that would help not just to stabilize prices, but to bring down prices to ensure that every Filipino consumer, especially the poor have access to adequate and affordable food.

I wish to thank the Chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, Senator Cynthia Villar, who earlier this afternoon, just before we convened the plenary session, agreed to conduct hearings on the resolution.

Thank you, Mr. President, thank you, Majority Leader, and to our colleagues in the Senate. May God bless the Philippines and keep all our kababayans safe and healthy, in the full sense of the word healthy.

Maraming salamat at magandang hapon sa kanilang lahat.

 

Sen Pangilinan Proposed Senate Resolution No. 618