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Saturday, February 24, 2024

What a week it has been

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Now the people reap the whirlwind of diminished supply, constricted import sources, and sky-high prices

That was a memorable week, and not only because of the FIBA matches, where, sadly, we lost to the Dominican Republic, while doing our valiant best.

Yevgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash along with his top aides in mercenary Wagner, or so the news reports tell us, with the US of A confirming the same along with Putin.

Immediately, the finger points to Putin as the one who planted a bomb in the plane Prigozhin last rode, but other reports, whether fake news or true, claim the bomb was cleverly hidden in a case of wine which CIA operatives planted because the mercenary leader failed to order his troops to march to Moscow in June, despite a huge monetary deal.

The dead cannot speak. But don’t celebrate yet.

Wagner may lie low in Ukraine, but having tasted money and power from state-sanctioned violence, they will just regroup, choose another leader, and operate elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.

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The BRICS made headlines all over the world when they met in South Africa, even if local media ignored the event with scant reportage.

Putin was understandably absent, as there is a standing warrant issued against him by the International Criminal Court, and sent the most durable foreign minister ever, Sergei Lavrov, while delivering his remarks on-line.

The rest of the bigshots were there: Brazil’s Lula, India’s Modi, host Cyril Ramaphosa, and of course, Xi Jinping.

But the latter played hide and seek, sometimes present, most of the time absent, in the summit’s major events.

Nothing earth-shaking came out of the BRICS summit, even a challenge to the almighty dollar came pffftt.

But the five original nations welcomed to its fold Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and another “most hated” nation by the CIA — Iran.

Those additions keep the whole world watching in suspense, as to what the enlarged grouping will do next.

Altogether now, without counting in Maduro’s Venezuela the BRICS countries have majority control of the world’s petroleum, derivatives like fertilizer, and even rare earth metals.

Meanwhile, Tokyo started releasing the wastewater from Fukushima’s nuclear reactor destroyed by the 2011 tsunami, into the waters of the world’s largest body of water, the mighty Pacific.

That brought a wave of fear from seafood consumers in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China, even if our own DOST said there is nothing to worry about.

China immediately imposed a ban on the importation of Japanese seafood, which is quite a blow to the Japanese seafood industry, as China and Hong Kong constitute more than a third of its foreign market.

That should be a boon to Japanese consumers of abalone, king crab legs and other shellfish as the depressed foreign demand will mean lower prices.

Likewise to our high-end Japanese restaurants who source their shellfish from the Tsukiji market, and sell them at astronomical prices here.

After all, DOST Sec. Solidum tells us the nuclear contaminants would be dissolved into infinitesimal particles by the sheer volume of the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, the major “noble” houses of big business joined forces in asking the Ombudsman to reconsider its dismissal of airport executives and true reformists Cesar Chiong and Irene Montalbo.

Rare event that is because for once the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFGCCCI) joined the Makati Business Club, FINEX, SEIPI, and other organizations which in the past have not been as shy as the Chinoy businessmen in making comments of a political or judicial nature.

Like we stated in this space last Monday, after what happened to Chiong, private sector professionals in the mold of DoTr’s Jimmy Bautista and others will have cold feet in joining government.

Not worth the stress and hassle, the thankless job, especially when you get dunned for doing the right thing.

As if these events of the past week were not enough, here comes the IACAT which spells out as Inter-Agency Council Against (Human) Trafficking coming out with a stupid communique that makes foreign travel by Filipinos prohibitively difficult, with requirements short of asking one to produce his college diploma as the immigration examiners may require.

Cagayan de Oro’s Rufus Rodriguez, himself a former Immigration commissioner, assailed the IACAT, which would allow immigration people from exercising “subjective judgment, whims and discretion” on departing passengers, and which would give rise to harassment, extortion and corruption.

The universal howl against the surprise announcement got the DOJ’s Boying Remulla allaying the fears of the public, whose constitutional freedom of travel is henceforth clearly violated, coming out the next day saying that the IACAT rules would apply only to “first-time” travelers.

His spokesman, ASec Mico Clavano had to apologize for the IACAT mis-communication, and likewise assuaged fears.

The IACAT reminds us of the defunct (?) IATF of pandemic days which often shot itself in the mouth with confusing pronouncements that created panic during those edgy days of universal fear.

Meanwhile, our president is confronted with his biggest headache—the continuous rise in the price of rice.

We have been writing and warning about this since several months back.

Now the shit has hit the fan, or is about to, since the ceiling keeps getting higher by the day.

From P38-40 in February when onions were the poster boys of food inflation, now it’s the staple commodity going from P50 to P60, and higher.

Panic now rules the international grains market, with wheat, corn, barley, oats and other grasses interdicted by Russia, the domino effect causing India to ban rice exports, and Thailand and Vietnam limiting theirs but for the highest prices their traders could exact.

From $430 per metric ton in early May when NFA’s Bioco informed Malacanang about his fears, Vietnam’s rice is now going at $650 per ton, even higher.

SINAG and other organizations claim there is plenty of domestic production, something that in hushed tones the DA, caught in a cold war between “senior” undersecretaries Panganiban and Sebastian, publicly assure, but privately worry about themselves.

SINAG asks why NFA’s Bioco went to India to explore the possibility of importing rice, instead of buying palay from local farmers, asserting that it’s high time NFA is abolished. Full text at www.manilastandard.net

NFA has been castrated by RA 11203 or the Rice Tarrification Law, which while rightly stripping the agency of its losing commercial operations, left it with hardly anything other than being a bodeguero (with empty bodegas at that).

That hastily written and reactive piece of legislation, in Sec. 4 even stripped NFA of issuing import permits during emergencies, giving the same to the Bureau of Plant and Industry now headed by Glenn Panganiban, through Sanitary and Phyto-Sanitary Import Clearance(s), and allowing the private importers no time limit to bring in the rice from foreign sources.

So now, the private sector, which were given their SPSIC’s early this year find that they cannot buy at the now high price of the commodity from their usual sources abroad who obviously want to make more hay while the sun shines on their trade.

As for the local market, how can NFA compete at 19 per kilo maximum buying price, as dictated by its NFA Council composed of representatives of our economic managers (DOF, BSP, NEDA, DTI, even the OP itself) when the private millers and traders are now buying at first P23 in May, now as high as P35 per kilo.

That’s the law of supply and demand.

Will any private rice trader buy high if there is adequate supply? Economics 101, guys.

Worse, NFA’s inventory from last year’s purchases, when the privates bought low because they imported much too much, have been diminished by highly subsidized Kadiwa plus calamities, such that as early as April, they had nothing but less than two days national consumption in their near-empty bodegas.

My DA sources tell me that Bioco, accompanied by young and bright DA ASec Arnel de Mesa were actually instructed by the president to seek ways and means on how we could immediately bring imported rice into the country, which at this point in time, is the only way we can stem the ever-rising price of rice.

Did India reconsider its export ban?

How will Vietnam assist its beleaguered ASEAN brother?

We wait with bated breath, but with little hope.

Of course we are happy that our long-starving farmers are getting a bonanza, but then again, every Filipino, except weight-watchers who can afford quinoa or adlai, is a rice consumer.

Equilibrium, the term economists use for balance, requires constant monitoring of the market and pre-positioning for emergencies, which government failed to do, simply because it could not make decisions right and on time.

Now the people reap the whirlwind of diminished supply, constricted import sources, and sky-high prices.

And just as we write this article, we read that tomatoes have reached P150 per kilo, up from P5 ex-farm and P20 at the wet market in May.

Likewise every vegetable from lowland talong to highland repolyo.

Bigas, kamatis, atbp.

Kawawa naman si presidente. At tayong lahat.

 

 

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