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CEBU, Philippines – Reymart Cortes has been selling rice since he was only 14 years old, and to him, being able to sell rice and provide for his family is the most important thing in life.
As an out-of-school youth, Cortes believes that it is his responsibility to become a hardworking businessman who can help his elderly parents and ensure that his three younger siblings finish college.
The owner of the stall that the young man manages trusts Cortes to make a profit on every kilogram of rice sold in Carbon Market, one of the busiest and oldest markets in Cebu City – a challenging task.
Things have now become more difficult for the young man, especially when the price of rice reached P60 per kilogram.
Placards on top of rice being displayed in Cebu’s markets rarely show prices less than P41, which is the intended price cap for regular milled rice per kilogram.
On September 5, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s Executive Order No. 39 took effect nationwide, setting the price ceilings for regular milled rice at P41 per kilo and well-milled rice at P45 per kilo.
“Alangan mag mubarato mi’g presyo unya among supplier kay mahal man (It’s not like we’re going to lower our rice prices when our suppliers’ prices are high),” Cortes said.
Vendors at the Carbon Market told Rappler on Thursday, September 7, that suppliers have already run out of affordable rice and are now selling more premium and special-grade rice.
Rappler Cebu Bureau visited other markets in neighboring cities and found that vendors there shared the same sentiments.
They pointed out that, technically, there is no price ceiling imposed on special and premium rice.
Cortes explained that one sack or 50 kilograms of Ganador, a premium-grade rice, costs P2,550. The pricing per kilogram of Ganador rice would be P51.
According to the young rice vendor, the price per kilogram for Ganador used to be P41.
To make matters worse, Cortes said, they only earn P100 for each sack of Ganador rice as they still have to account for labor and transportation expenses.
Hurting ‘puso’ vendors
While some consumers elsewhere took advantage of the cheap prices in the first few days of the price ceiling’s implementation, puso (hanging rice) vendors and owners of eateries in Cebu bore the brunt of the challenges that rice retailers faced.
Renato Cabaron, a retired delivery driver, only started his puso-making business in Barangay Pasil, Cebu City, in 2022 but is already finding it very hard to make ends meet due to the price of rice in the market.
Normally, he would sell puso at P5 per piece, but over time, as rice prices started increasing, he began to consider gradually increasing the price by one peso at a time.
He is, however, unable to do so, as customers would complain about the sudden increase and would go to his competitors, no longer buying from his store.
Cabaron said he has no choice but to purchase the expensive rice, “sacrificing” his budget in the process, as the quality of the cheaper rice that he would often find in markets is poor.
Much like him, Mariloy Llano, an eatery owner, is unable to increase the price of the rice they serve or reduce the size of the serving due to the fear of losing customers.
“Magtapal na lang jud mi… gisaka jud namo amo budget (We would just cover the missing amount… we had to increase our budget),” Llano said.
Llano said they would simply endure the situation and wait for the situation to improve.
During his presidential campaign, Marcos promised to lower the price of rice to P20 per kilo by implementing a price cap.
Many vendors in Cebu’s markets are still hoping for this promise to be fulfilled but are now relying on government initiatives to help them.
On September 4, the national government announced that it was planning to set aside P2 billion from the 2023 budget to aid rice retailers affected by the price ceiling.
Meanwhile, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama told reporters on Thursday, September 7, that the local government would look into the proper implementation of the price ceiling through a local rice price monitoring task force.
“We should not think about assistance. Let’s first look into it,” Rama said.
Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia told a press conference on Friday, September 8, that the provincial government has been working with government agencies like the Office of the President and the National Food Authority (NFA) to make the cheaper NFA rice reach as many people as possible.
On February 28, people lined up to buy NFA rice sold at P25 per kilo at the Cebu Provincial Capitol grounds during the last day of the Kadiwa ng Pangulo Diskwento Caravan. Consumers were only allowed to buy up to five kilograms of rice each.
Garcia said they want to avoid “nurturing a mendicant culture” when it comes to assisting constituents. She said they would help people in a way that they would also help themselves as well.
“We cannot forever be giving away rice in terms of assistance. The bitter part is if you give money, how do you know they will use it to buy rice?” she said. – Rappler.com