Soaring Rice Prices Are Dulling Duterte’s Luster in Philippines

Soaring Rice Prices Are Dulling Duterte’s Luster in Philippines

These days, it does not take long for Lilian Gomez, 52, to hit her budget limit at the Agora market in Manila. She said she had not bought fresh meat or fish in two months, and she reminisced about cooking dishes whose ingredients she could no longer afford: banana blossoms stewed in coconut milk, eggplant with shrimp paste, spicy taro leaves.

To stretch the rice she buys for her family of three, she plumps it into porridge.

“Five hundred pesos feels like one peso now,” Ms. Gomez said. “All the prices have gone up since Duterte became president.”

Ramon Clarete, a professor of economics at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City who specializes in agriculture and food policy, said the problem with rice, in particular, was a crisis of the government’s own creation.

“It was the incompetent mistake of the N.F.A. not stocking itself adequately that gave fuel to inflation,” Mr. Clarete said of the National Food Authority, which is tasked with maintaining rice stocks and influencing prices within the Philippines’ protectionist import regime. “It could be they are not appreciative enough of how the market works. Or cruel.”

Characteristically, Mr. Duterte responded to the higher prices first with threats.

Publicly, he began suggesting there was a conspiracy among rice dealers. He labeled them as cartels, hoarders and smugglers, telling them to “stop messing with the people.”

“Consider yourselves warned,” he said, “or the full power of the state will be upon you.”

Emmanuel Pinol, the agriculture secretary, backed up Mr. Duterte’s threats with high-profile raids of rice warehouses, and he announced a bounty of 250,000 pesos, or about $4,600, for information leading to the arrest of rice hoarders.

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