• Gov’t messed up on garlic, rice

    (The Philippine Star) July 7, 2014


    There can be only one conclusion from the recent Senate hearing on the crisis in garlic and rice: government agencies goofed. The Department of Agriculture, National Food Authority and the Department of Trade and Industry failed the Filipino people by messing up big time. When I was a police reporter we have a term for such failures: natutulog sa pansitan.

    Let us hear it from Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food: “The cost of garlic at production cost is P40 per kilo while imported garlic is pegged at P17 per kilo with duty. How can P17 and P40 per kilo go up to P280 per kilo?” Actually, Mrs Villar, it isn’t just P280 a kilo but upwards from P350 in my own experience.

    She continued: “The prices are too high. If you sell it at P100 per kilo, that’s understandable but P280 per kilo is too much.”

    A representative of a supposed farmer’s group complained that imported garlic is cheaper at P50 per kilo compared to P100 per kilo farm gate price of local garlic.  Sen Villar blamed traders for manipulating the prices of garlic.

    “There is no shortage in supply. They (traders) are just controlling the supply, which is in the hands of the few. If there was shortage, importation would cost P17 per kilo only at landed cost,” Sen Villar said. She urged the justice department to look into the culpability of garlic traders, noting that garlic should be cheap regardless if it is grown locally or imported.

    She should have also asked the Ombudsman to probe all the government agencies caught napping when garlic prices zoomed to the stratosphere. If they were doing their jobs, they should have known what was going on in the market.

    The Department of Trade and Industry is mandated to be vigilant about price movements. DTI has the power to set “suggested” retail prices that are however, mandatory on pain of fines and other sanctions.

    The Department of Agriculture is supposed to have reliable information on local production and volume of imports. They should have caught signs of a potential shortage that could drive prices up. They should have known the right time to trigger a more liberal import policy.

    Under Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act of 1992, as amended, implementing agencies such as the DA and DTI, may determine, recommend to the President and enforce price ceiling or control if there is widespread acts of price manipulation, or any event that causes artificial and unreasonable increase in the price of a basic necessity or prime commodity.

    It is not enough for them to now say there is hoarding of garlic stock. They should have known about this and should have done something about it. Their negligence is costing the public plenty.

    On rice, we are at least heartened that Sec Kiko Pangilinan and the law enforcement agencies are now vigilant against so called hoarders. The police last week raided a rice miller in Bulacan. They came up with solid proof of NFA rice being transferred to new sacks, presumably for sale as commercial rice at a huge profit.

    Superintendent Marcos Rivero, Marilao police chief, said a sack of NFA rice is sold between P700 to P800. Once transferred into commercial rice sacks, each bag is sold between P2,000 to P2,200. Police said two 10-wheeler trucks each loaded with 5,000 sacks of NFA rice were also intercepted at the warehouse compound.

    Of course we have long suspected connivance of NFA officials with rice traders in diverting NFA rice and converting these to commercial for a fat profit. That it didn’t take them long to pinpoint one such case is not surprising. They know where all that NFA rice is being spirited away.

    I hope they will catch a few more in the next few days or this one will look more like a photo op operation only. Kiko looked like he was taken from a cabinet meeting to inspect the rice mill in his barong. To be credible, we need more of these operations.

    Anyari, Upsilon?

    Almost 7 years ago, I wrote a column at the urging of Danny Gozo, my Upsilonian friend of many years, about how the fraternity has decided to introduce an alternative initiation activity to physical hazing. Instead, Danny proudly told me, neophytes would be asked to build houses for Gawad Kalinga.

    Danny was President of the Upsilon Alumni at the time and he explained that the alumni donated funds to GK for building materials and the neophytes will supply the labor. I was skeptical but gave Danny the benefit of the doubt.

    You can imagine my disappointment last week when I heard about a serious initiation injury involving Upsilon. The report on TV Patrol didn’t initially name Upsilon but the way the fraternity was described, the oldest in the campus, etc, erased any doubt in my mind it was Upsilon.

    The report was also done by veteran broadcast journalist Ces Drilon and I know she is a Sigma Deltan, the sister sorority of Upsilon. That plus the track record of Ces as a no nonsense journalist gave me confidence on the veracity of the report.

    I immediately thought of UP President Fred Pascual, another good friend of mine who is an Upsilonian. This will put him in a spot so I texted him, urging him to come out with a statement to reassure the public there will be no cover-up. The UP Diliman Chancellor’s initial refusal to name the fraternity involved made some people suspect there is a cover-up because the UP President is an Upsilonian.

    Fred replied to my text the next morning to say he is abroad. Apparently, he just landed in Los Angeles when the news was relayed to him. Since the hazing happened a couple of weeks ago, I wondered if the UP President was kept in the dark by his own fraternity brods and UP Diliman officials.

    The initial report came from a blogger who reported about a hazing victim being treated at St. Luke’s Quezon City. Assuming the victim and his family wanted privacy, the hospital still has an obligation to report to the police that they have a hazing victim there. Hazing is a criminal act and the police must know. Anyone who knows but fails to report must be guilty of obstructing justice.

    The investigation is still on-going but there are reports that must yet be verified, that the most serious blows were delivered by alumni members. If this were so, they are beyond UP’s disciplinary reach.

    But if I remember UP’s rules, the officers of the resident members must take responsibility and that could include suspension or even expulsion. Promising futures will go down the drain because of a barbaric and stupid ritual that we all thought Upsilonians have agreed to never do again.

    Some of my best friends in college were Upsilonians. As a working professional, I have the highest respect for contemporaries who are Upsilonians.

    They cannot say this is a private family matter of the fraternity.  Hazing has become a national blight and thus, hazing events have become matters of national interest. A special law was even passed banning it.

    Because I have always thought of my Upsilonian friends as highly intelligent and rational people, I hope they will take this opportunity to banish this depravity of physical hazing forever. And if the guilty parties are alumni members, they should not hesitate to expel them as a way of protecting the fraternity’s image.

    Hazing injuries and deaths have been condemned by our society and responsible citizens who happen to be Upsilonians should lead a transformation. No parent should grieve again because of a hazing death or worry as an injured son hovers between life and death.

    I recall that when Cris Anthony Mendez, a UP Public Ad student died during initiation rites of Sigma Rho, the eminent Jovito Salonga publicly renounced his membership in protest. Juan Ponce Enrile called on his fraternity brothers “to ferret out the people responsible and kick them out of the fraternity…”

    I don’t know if Sigma Rho followed Enrile’s call and I doubt it. But if JPE, with all the faults many see in him today saw the moral depravity of it all, this has to be something that demands drastic change in the mindsets of fraternities everywhere.

    I know of many Upsilonians who cry out for national reforms and social transformation in the face of the Napoles scam. Here is one reform right down your alley, guys. Show the nation you can clean up your frat and you guys will be credible when you demand our politicians clean up the country. Not easy, I know, but must be done.