I wrote this commentary for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
From P60-P90 per kilo last month, the price of garlic has soared to more than P350 per kilo. From P20-P30 per kilo, the price of ginger has increased to P100 per kilo.
From P50 per kilo, the price of good quality rice has increased by P2 per kilo. Meanwhile, from P30 per kilo last year, the price of ordinary rice has risen to over P42 per kilo .
The same holds true for food items such as beef, carrots, cauliflower, chicken, cooking oil, lettuce, onion, pechay, pork, and sugar increased by P2 per kilo to as high as P50 per kilo.
Commenting to press reporters before flying back to the country from an official travel in Japan, President BS Aquino admitted to being clueless as to its cause but denied that the spike in the prices of rice and basic food products have any effect on the majority of Filipinos.
“It is the well-milled that has had this very significant spike. The low-end rice – I was briefed – had not that much increase in price,” said the President.
Let them eat cake
In short, settle for the lesser quality rice that did not increase prices as much as well-milled rice.
Or in the words of Presidential Spokesperson Sonny Coloma that has made the rounds over social media networks in the past week:
“Ang hirap naman kasi sa mga kababayan natin, bibili lang ng bigas, yun pang mabango ang hahanapin nila. Eh di syempre mahal yun.”
Are we hearing echoes of that saying commonly attributed to Marie Antoinette which has become emblematic of ruling class callousness to the plight of the poor?
The French Queen, executed by guillotine during the French Revolution, was alleged to have said: let them eat cake! Today, our hacendero president crows: let them eat low-end rice!
In fact, the same logic runs through much of the Aquino regime’s responses to almost every other public issue.
Don’t like MRT fare hikes? Look for other means of transportation! Find private colleges and universities expensive? Study in public colleges!
All these serve as powerful refutations of the Aquino regime’s rhetoric of “inclusive growth,” a tired cliché that have long lost any meaning for the majority of the population anyway.
There is no inclusive growth when in the first quarter of the present year six of ten Filipinos are finding it hard to buy enough food for their families, when more and more Filipinos do not have enough food on the table.
There is no inclusive growth when neoliberal policies of deregulation and liberalization or the removal of trade barriers and restrictions are excluding the majority of the Filipino people from whatever “economic development” boasted by the Aquino regime.
The recent spate of food price increases and the brazen indifference of government officials to the welfare of the people cannot be divorced from the explosion of landlessness and lack of subsidies for local farmers as a result of these neoliberal policies.
The government’s policy of trade liberalization, especially in the wake of our country’s entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, has directly led to the decline of local agricultural production, even deeper dependence on imported products, and spiraling prices.
This is a state of affairs that has favored local cartels and big compradors who control the food supply largely imported from their foreign monopoly capitalist partners.
The case of native garlic is symptomatic of the consequences of subsequent administrations’ pushing for “free market” policies.
From supplying more than enough garlic for local households, the local garlic industry has seen a gradual death since the entry of more imported garlic.
According to the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), local garlic production has dropped only to 8,847 metric tons last year from an annual average of 17,000 metric tons before the country’s entry to the WTO. At the same time, garlic imports reached 28, 690 metric tons.
“In 1994, 7,000 hectares of our land area were planted to garlic. Today, garlic lands are down to 2,500 hectares,” said Sinag Chair Rosendo So.
And so a local garlic industry that the country used to boast of as a productive sector becomes inconsequential. Are supernatural elements fearful of the aroma of garlic behind this slow decline?
Still more ironic is the news of the Bureau of Customs setting fire to over P30 million worth of garlic that have the misfortune of getting smuggled from Taiwan at a time when garlic, so to speak, is gold.
Commodities are on display in stalls and shops while people have nothing to eat. In a supposedly “free market,” nothing is accessible to the common man. In a “democracy” the people have the right to starve.
These are but some of the ironies of a ruling system where the prerogatives of profit accumulation are blind to human needs and sufferings.
In the long run, there will be no irony if one day our ruling political and economic elites will follow the fate of Marie Antoinette.