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Galunggong economics


If his mother’s yardstick were to be followed, President Noynoy Aquino’s economic program would get a failing grade.
During the snap election campaign in 1986, opposition presidential candidate Corazon Aquino, in downplaying the economic achievements of then President Ferdinand Marcos, said that the price of “galunggong” has risen to P12 a kilo (about 80 US cents at the prevailing exchange rate then of P14 to a $1) and, therefore, Marcos should go. “Sobra na, tama na, palitan na!”
Indeed, if an administration cannot lower the price of galunggong and rice, the Filipinos’ staple foods, then it has not helped the people economically. The administration is a failure.

Since then, opposition presidential candidates would use the lowly galunggong (round scad) to stress the poor economic achievements of the previous administration. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for instance, said in 2002 that she has lowered the price of galunggong from P80 per kilo ($1.56 per kilo) during the time of deposed President Joseph Estrada to just P60 per kilo ($1.17 per kilo) in her first year in office.
After winning the controversial presidential election in 2004, however, Arroyo must have forgotten the importance of the galunggong because in 2006, its price went up to around P90 per kilo, further increasing to about P120 per kilo ($2.80 per kilo) just before she yielded the presidency to the younger Aquino.

After 20 months of the Aquino presidency, the price of galunggong has skyrocketed to the peak price of P150 per kilo ($3.48 per kilo). So even accounting for inflation, the price of galunggong has dramatically risen from $0.80 per kilo in 1986 to $3.48 per kilo today. No wonder many Filipinos now have to make do with patis or bagoong to go with their rice!

But that’s not the only issue to be concerned about. Galunggong, which was the Filipinos’ staple fish for decades because of its abundance and its consequent low price, is now being imported from China and Taiwan at a very low price but sold in wet markets at exceedingly exorbitant prices!
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) finally admitted recently that the Philippines has been importing 900,000 metric tons of fish annually from the two Asian neighbors, 60 percent of them galunggong. The BFAR said the local supply of galunggong and other fish species has dwindled to the point that the country needs to import them to meet the people’s demand.

Why a country that is surrounded by water has to import its fish to feed its people is simply incomprehensible. But again, that’s not really the concern of the average Filipino, who consumes about 28 kilos a year. They wouldn’t really mind eating galunggong from whatever source as long as the price is within their means. But instead of lowering the prices of galunggong, the importation has even increased the prices. Why?
The BFAR said the import licenses granted to Filipino importers stipulates that the fish would be sold to institutional buyers, such as canneries, factories and restaurants. But apparently, the imported fish are being diverted to wet markets, which should have lowered the prices of galunggong given that its landing price, according to Customs records, is only P19.50 per kilo. Even allowing a 100-percent mark-up for local distribution costs plus a generous profit margin, the retail price should just be around P40 per kilo, according to Dominador Mondragon Jr., president of the Consumer Rights Organization of the Philippines, Inc.

Apparently, the importation of galunggong and other fish, such as anchovies (dilis) and sardines (tamban), is being controlled by the same monopolies that control the distribution of locally caught fish. And to think that these importers enjoy duty and tax exemptions! A double whammy, indeed!
These monopolies also control the distribution of other food products, such as rice, sugar, beef, pork, chicken, onions and garlic, which are all basic staples in the Filipino kitchen. No wonder that the incidence of hunger in the Philippines has continued to rise, according to surveys conducted regularly by Pulse Asia and the Social Weather Station.

President Aquino should start focusing on providing affordable food on the Filipino’s table if he is really serious about his promise of “Kung walang korap, walang mahirap.” For starters, he should look into the obvious hocus-pocus in the importation of fish and other food commodities, which has been going on for years.

He cannot continue blaming the past administration for such anomalies. After all, he promised to eradicate graft in all phases of government and the illegal activities in the private sector. Will he spend the rest of his term going after alleged grafters in the past administration and keep a blind eye on those in his administration who continue the corrupt ways of the past?

Aquino should show the same intensity that he exhibits in pursuing the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona in going after food monopolies, smugglers and their cohorts in the government. With the focus and determination that he has shown in going after his perceived personal enemies, there is no reason he cannot exert the same political will to go after both the corruptors and the corrupted in the country.
The people expect no less.


By Val G. Abelgas

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