Shortage of noche buena favorites likely, importers warn

MANILA, Philippines – Watch out, cry, pout if you must. It looks like there would be less to feast on during this year’s noche buena and media noche.

Blame that on the possible shortage of fruits, meat, and poultry products due to the lingering effects of Manila ports’ congestion, an association of importers said.

There are more than 30 international and local ships that were unable to dock and unload their cargo anew at the Manila International Container Ports (MICP) and Port of Manila (POM).

The current problem of port congestion prompted the shipping lines to boycott the city ports due to lack of available berthing spaces.

On board these vessels were hundreds of containers loaded with food items, including imported beauty products, hardware supplies, and infant needs.

“This has an adverse, domino-like effort. The delay in delivering these goods from the port to the suppliers then to retailers like supermarkets puts ordinary consumers at the raw end of the deal," Mary Zapata, president of the Aduana Business Club, said.

"They either pay high prices or, worse, buy nothing at all because there is no supply," Zapata added.

Stephen Cua of the Philippine Amalgamated Supermarkets Association echoed Zapata’s woes. He said, "The scenario (food supply shortage) is bound to happen if they keep tightening up on the supplies waiting at the port.”

“What do we, as retailers, sell to consumers?" Cua asked.

Still confronted with port congestion even as the truck ban had been lifted, Zapata traced the problem to two factors: “The people at the Customs are imposing measures that are way too strict and the PPA (Philippine Ports Authority) allows empty containers to go back, taking the space of newly-landed cargo containers.”

Zapata said their group tried to personally discuss the issue with Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, who is tasked by Malacañang to look for solutions to the congestion at the Manila ports.

Asked about the result of their discussion, Zapata replied:  "We've tried to talk to Secretary Almendras many times, he is still mum on this. In the meantime, the problem and the cargoes are all piling up."

To ease further the congestion, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson urged importers to move shipment on weekends while Manila ports are still coping with poor road networks. Rappler.com