I grew up in our ancestral house in Laguna. At the back of our kitchen was a backyard with a big carport and yard. Each day, trucks would come in with a load of fish and shellfish.
My grandmother was a “consignitaria,” one of the layers in the daily trading of fish. The truckloads would come in when I was asleep, from Lucena, Pagbilao, and even from the railroad tracks where the PNR brought “banyeras” of fish from Camarines Sur. There was also a Chinese “viajero” I fondly called Ah-Lim who brought in fish from Navotas, and bangus from elsewhere. Each time he collected the week’s “cuenta” from my lola, he would bring me hopia or lychees or some other Binondo “pasalubong.”
All these produce were delivered on a weekly credit, and in those times when bank remittances were unheard of, everything was paid for in cash, and the “cuenta” recorded in small notebooks.
My lola, in turn would have the banyeras brought to the San Pablo City market, and from there, another layer of smaller traders would bring the fish to Rizal, Nagcarlan, Alaminos, and Calauan, or even Dolores and Tiaong in neighboring Quezon.
All these were on short-term credit. The stall-holders in the San Pablo market would get their wares on consignment, hence the appellation “consignacion” or “consignitaria.” By mid-afternoon—wet-markets closed before noon—the “tinderas” would come to the house and pay my lola for the day’s consigned fish.
I grew up understanding the workings of the “market” this very practical way, and later in school, then in business.
I could not for the life of me grasp why once upon a time, in the reign of Tita Cory, my friend Oscar Orbos, once her executive secretary, opened up Malacañang as the “people’s palace” and sold “galunggong,” then the poor man’s fish right in the grounds fronting Mabini Hall.
“Optics” the not-so-beau-geste is called these days, or “PR”, which is really abbreviating propaganda. “GG” had reached the unthinkable heights of P60 per kilo then, at the time pork was P90 and chicken P75.
As usual, the “greedy and unconscionable” traders were blamed for the high price of GG. I asked my then-almost-80 year-old lola, retired from business and whiling her time with mahjong in the ancestral house, about the economics of high-priced GG.
She advised me to go to the Navotas fish port, which is the biggest fish port in the country (then and now), and where the biggest haul of GG is traded each day, much like tuna in Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo.
I came out of Navotas realizing that one cannot in fact bring fish to the daily table of every consumer if the middle layers in the marketing of produce were, as media often advocate, “eliminated.”
But that’s another lesson in practical economics for the time I decide to go back to teaching. The lesson learned and will always be learned is the law of supply and demand, stupid.
I read a report from our paper last Friday entitled “OMGG, Phil seen buying back its own fish!,” and then quotes the BFAR director and DA Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, who said that “what we will import could come from us too since the fish may have escaped and migrated” and prescribed [what] ‘‘we can do is not to allow our fish, particularly our galunggong to migrate…”
OMGG indeed! Further this writer will comment naught.
* * *
And then this brouhaha about “bukbok” in NFA rice that supposedly could not be unloaded from the vessels that brought the Viet and Thai imports due to persistent bad weather.
The shipping time from Ho Chi Minh to our WPS seaports is not that long for “bukbok” to infest “good” rice. That is, if “good” rice was bought.
The NFA names the pre-shipment inspectors who check the quality of the rice before it is loaded in the docks of the long Mekong River and certify that the shipment/s are according to the specification of the buyer.
In my time, I nominated SGS, the international Swiss-based pre-inspection firm. There are also other reputable inspecting firms like Bureau Veritas, Cotecna of France, Omni of Japan. Which of these inspected the shipments before they were loaded to vessels en route to our ports? Or did we nominate some other less-than-reputable firm?
Now the imported rice will be fumigated to rid it of “bukbok” because government cannot possibly allow even the poorest of the poor to eat weevil-laced 25-percent broken inferior rice.
Decades back, Bulog in Indonesia (their NFA) had a similar problem with 25-percent broken rice, and the natives almost broke up in revolt. I am sure our athletes now in Jakarta, if they ever tried eating in “cheap” food stalls, wondered why the rice is so good, and so fragrant. Even their carinderias serve 15-percent broken, minimum standard.
In 2010, NFA had a similar weevil problem in its warehouses, because we had rice that were stocked back to 2008. TV cameras also panned on our Valenzuela warehouse, and fumigation rid the rice of pests. That was the time we were “swimming in rice” from unabated huge imports from Vietnam that PNoy decried in his primera SONA.
But now we have freshly imported rice from the same country sources. Wala na ngang murang bigas, may bukbok pa.
* * *
It is almost harvest time in Central Luzon. By this time, any middleman with the smallest of brains would have figured out the supply conditions, that is, the expected harvest of the staple grain, after floods and other weather disturbances.
Why is the average palay farm-gate buying price, as the Philippine Statistics Authority puts it, an all-time high of P22.10 per kilo? And that is the national average, because in Nueva Ecija, it is P27, even higher, depending on quality.
Multiply the palay buying price ex-farm by two, and you get your “minimum” selling price of well-milled rice.
Again, go back to Economics 101 and the law of supply and demand.