Hunger in the Philippines

[ANALYSIS] Craving, craft, and cosplay

Dean de la Paz

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[ANALYSIS] Craving, craft, and cosplay

Alyssa Arizabal/Rappler

'That the administration had proven it can bring down food prices is a lie'

When the Social Weather Station (SWS) released the results of its second quarter survey on hunger, the data showed a 10% increase among most grappling with food shortages, a continuing policy of importations for basic tabletop staples, and one of the highest inflation rates in the region. While food inflation slowed a tad, it remains high among ASEAN. The people need not be told what many know in their gut. Given the presidency remains behind the Department of Agriculture (DA), what are critical are the reasons for hunger.

The desperate craving results from various factors. These include impoverishing high prices, supply shortages and incompetently crafted agricultural policies. Under Ferdinand Marcos Jr. there is a quantum deepening of our dependence on better managed foreign economies and a chosen cabal of wholesale Ferengi virtually calling the shots. As we repeatedly import rice and other basic food, effectively prioritizing naturally or artificially created shortages government back-burners costs in favor of supply. Hence everyone, including our local farmers, struggle with high prices just to put food on the table.

Coming within days of a presidential declaration that the administration had proven it “can bring down food prices” (Sa mga nakalipas na buwan, nakita natin ang pagbaba ng presyo ng bilihin sa iba’t ibang mga sektor. Napatunayan natin na kayang maipababa ang presyo ng bigas, karne, isda, gulay, at asukal.) and that the economy was “sound and improving,” it is obvious that continuing disinformation remains.

Amid growing hunger, the last recorded unemployment rate increased to 4.8%, with underemployment at 12.3 %, inflation at 8.6%, and our misery index at 25.7%. The enveloping destitution afflicting over a fourth of the population could easily escalate to dangerous desperation. Here the hollow soundbites from the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) that characterize the absence of authentic empathy, and the quality of information fed Marcos play to an increasingly volatile situation.

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Add to these Marcos’s capacity for understanding simple economic data. Remember the concept of pluralistic ignorance and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes? Pluralistic ignorance occurs when a majority, conscious of falsehood, choose to ignore it. Whatever words cover an unfortunate reality, the absence of real fabric cannot conceal the truth.

Are we seeing plain vanilla insensitivity from our leaders, or are we witnessing political psychopathy whose symptoms include compulsive lying, the constant concealment of the truth, or in the face of continuing failures at the DA, the failure to accept responsibility? After all, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Again the aptness of Andersen’s fable where a delusional Emperor does not see that his weavers have woven him nothing while his court, conscious of the truth, still imagines their leader in the most resplendent robes.

Focusing on the sector Marcos insists on personally managing, allow us to analyze what the royal weavers have crafted and what the gallery at the SONA applauded.

The SONA tradition was established under the American checks and balances system to provide accountability. As the legislature’s check on the executive, it calls for the latter to report on the previous year’s performance, both on accomplishments and failures. For the agricultural sector Marcos reported on three major developments – food prices, the impact of the resurrected KADIWA program, and his enforcement of laws against smuggling and hoarding.

That the administration had proven it “can bring down food prices” is a lie. In the last year the consumer price index for nearly all commodities rose. While inflation decelerated recently, prices are still increasing for food as well as for other headline inflation commodities.

To ensure against food inflation, Marcos said, “Our aim is to boost our local agricultural production — through consolidation, modernization, mechanization, and improvement of value chains — augmented by timely and calibrated importation, as needed.”

Boosting production is an old promise. He said that over a year ago. Unfortunately his quick-fix importation default refocused domestic production in favor of enriching supply chain traders, importers, and smugglers.

What consolidation was concentrated on a handful, effectively worsening the inequities of the agricultural value chain. As for modernization, a few days prior to the SONA, the modern biofertilizer program that would have increased palay production by 1.2 million metric tons and earned P24 billion in incremental profit was virtually defunded.

On KADIWA, Marcos said, “Malaking tulong ang KADIWA stores. Maganda ang kita ng magsasaka. Nakakatipid din ang mga mamimili. Sa mahigit pitong libong KADIWA na idinaos sa buong Pilipinas, 1.8 milyon na na pamilya ang nakinabang sa mababang presyo ng bilihin. Sa kabuuan, halos pitong-daang milyon piso ang naging benta ng mga ito.”

Did he do the math? Over 7,000 KADIWA stores that benefit 1.8 million is only 7% of the population. Moreover, KADIWA had become a distribution outlet for smuggled goods, seized illegal importations, and contraband food imported at high prices, all effectively subsidized and sold at lower costs. Not only are the sources imported, thus crowding out domestic production, but the volume and the KADIWA pricing distorts overall food values to the detriment of local producers.

Worse, in the few months that Marcos had exhumed KADIWA from its infernal depths, it is already the subject of several legal cases. Among the issues were doubtful deliveries, and the manipulation of stocks and prices.

The most popular item in his report to Congress was on his swashbuckling campaign against hoarders and smugglers.

But let us turn once more to the data. Not a single smuggler or hoarder has seen the inside of a jail cell. It probably helps that they have selfies with our highest officials instead of front and profile mugshots.

The rest of Marcos’s agricultural agenda were more promises, again for domestic productivity. That makes sense. The last year achieved none.

If there is anything the agricultural community took away from the SONA, it is insulting cultural misappropriation guised as a cosplay by some Marcos officials. That makes sense. The whole affair reminds us of a ComiCon. –

Dean de la Paz is a former investment banker and managing director of a New Jersey-based power company operating in the Philippines. He is the chairman of the board of a renewable energy company and is a retired Business Policy, Finance, and Mathematics professor. He collects Godzilla figures and antique tin robots.

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