Malacañang said Thursday the government was exerting best efforts to stabilize the rising prices of the basic commodities as a result of the pandemic, as it recognized the labor group’s call for a wage increase.
The government announcement coincided with a statement the Senate will be conducting hearings to determine the necessary interventions to stabilize and lower food prices following Senator Francis Pangilinan’s proposed Senate Resolution 618 seeking an inquiry into rising food prices.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the proposed increase in the daily minimum wage should be balanced with the predicament of some businesses badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Palace official made the statement after the Kilusang Mayo Uno said it was planning to file another wage petition before the regional wage boards to address the situation.
It also sought the immediate passage of the P750 National Minimum Wage Bill, which is pending in Congress.
Toward the end of his privilege speech Wednesday, Pangilinan, former Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agricultural Modernization, thanked Senator Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, for agreeing to conduct hearings on his resolution.
In his proposed Senate Resolution 618, Pangilinan said the objective of the hearings was to ensure that every Filipino consumer, especially the poor, have access to adequate and affordable food.
Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri said the issue was very timely and the hearing would help focus on the problem at hand.
Senator Pia Cayetano moved to include the speech in a joint referral to the Committee on Sustainable Development Goals, Innovation and Future Thinking.
Senator Imee Marcos also moved to invite the Department of Trade and Industry to enforce the Price Act which seeks to protect consumers from undue price increases during emergency situations.
KMU secretary general Jerome Adonis said despite the assurance of Malacañang that the Department of Agriculture was trying to bring down the prices of basic food items through importation and enforcement of the suggested retail price, prices of basic commodities continued to increase.
Roque said that any wage hike proposal for workers would be reviewed and decided upon by the concerned regional wage board.
“We have a law on that. The regional wage boards make the decision. Anyone can apply for an increase in the regional minimum wage if they want to,” he said.
However, Roque said it must be balanced with the truth that because of the pandemic, many businesses were having difficulty, if not they would have to shut down operations.
Among the Department of Agriculture’s strategies are to boost the shipment of hogs from Visayas and Mindanao and other African Swine Fever-free areas in Luzon to Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon as well as the sale of pork products by hog raisers in Kadiwa Ani and Kita markets and digital platform.
“They are also importing pork from ASF-free countries while the volume of pork imports or the minimum access volume would be increased,” Roque said.
To help ease the price hikes of fruits and vegetables, Roque said the DA would strictly implement and monitor the suggested retail prices of food products as well as enhance vegetable and fruit production through urban agriculture. More vegetable and fruit processing facilities, warehouses, and cold storages will also be established.
Pangilinan said the issue of rising food prices was closely related to the issue of health – everyone’s primary concern now during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A Social Weather Stations survey 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.
According to Unicef, a third of children in the Philippines are stunted.
The World Health Organization estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic might cause stunting among children under five years old if no mitigating interventions are put in place.
Aside from the pandemic lockdowns that disrupted the food supply chain, other factors that may have caused food prices to go up include: the African swine flu, which infected pigs in Luzon; flooding of food imports; and the decline in the number of Filipino farmers planting after consecutive losses as cheaper food imports push their produce out of the market.