Rice retailers in Laguna province facing financial ruin due to the imposition of price ceilings in their products believe that the national government should have focused on the issues of alleged hoarding and profiteering of rice wholesalers.
Rice vendors in Laguna province have found themselves in an almost-impossible situation.
Starting September 5, they have been caught in a dilemma: how to balance the implementation of Executive Order No. 39 issued by President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., which put price ceilings on rice products, and the need to make even a measly profit.
As EO 39 mandates rice retailers to sell their products between P41 per kilogram (for regular milled rice) and P45 per kilogram (for well-milled rice), some vendors interviewed by OpinYon Laguna said they have been forced to close their businesses temporarily or endure losses.
Confusion reigned on the first day of the implementation of EO 39, as some vendors believed that the order applies only to Metro Manila.
"Noong unang araw po [ng implementasyon ng EO 39], isa lang po sa 18 rice stalls sa loob ng Biñan Public Market ang nagbukas, at siya lang ang may available na P45 na bigas," Richard Galang, Market Supervisor at the Biñan City Public Market, told OpinYon Laguna.
“Nabigla po sila [rice retailers] dahil unang una di nila ineexpect na ganoon. Siguro merong isang retailer dito na meron siyang stock nung sumunod, na-obligang sumunod tapos ang ginagawa ng DTI [Department of Trade and Industry], inaalam kung magkano loss nila,” he added.
And the losses for market vendors are considerable: P200 to P300 a day, according to Galang.
“Parang P3 to P4 per kilo ang lugi nila, tapos 25 kilos yung isang half kaban rice tutuusin na lang doon. Halimbawa, isang kaban 50 kilos doon nila imi-multiply na lang,” he added.
Some vendors who were interviewed by OpinYon Laguna also complained that the price ceiling did not take into consideration the other costs involved in operating their stalls, such as rent and electricity.
"Hindi naman po namin pwedeng ibenta nang mababa, e di lugi na po kami, tapos nagbabayad pa kami ng upa," "Rodrigo," a rice retailer at the Plaza Pacita Public Market in San Pedro City, said in an interview with OpinYon Laguna.
“Dito nga sa isang kaban, palagay nating kalahating sako e wala pa kaming tubo sa P100 niyan. Okay sana kung mabilis [mabenta] ang bigas, kaya lang matumal lang yan.”
However, market vendors have said they have little choice on the matter.
Not only have DTI officials made regular rounds of public markets in Laguna province to ensure that rice retailers comply with the rules, the penalties for non-compliance itself are enough to scare many vendors into following the rules.
"Kailangan po naming sumunod, kasi kapag di kami sumunod, may multa pa raw," "Mark," a rice vendor from Barangay Pacita 1 in San Pedro City, told OpinYon Laguna.
According to provisions of Republic Act 7581, otherwise known as the Price Act, penalties for violation of price ceilings include imprisonment from one to 10 years and/or fines from P5,000 to P1 million.
"Twice a week po kaming nagko-conduct ng price monitoring, kasama na po ang rice products. Sa Laguna province po, ang focus natin ay sa Biñan Public Market," an official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Laguna province said in a message to OpinYon Laguna.
"Usually po, once po na may mag-report po [na violation sa price ceiling], magsasagawa po ng validation to confirm ang aming Agribusiness and Marketing Assistance Division in coordination po sa concerned LGU and Local Price Coordinating Council," he added.
House Speaker Martin Romualdez had earlier promised financial assistance to rice retailers whose livelihoods were affected by the imposition of price ceilings on rice products.
Earlier, Romualdez had said he has directed House Committee on Appropriations chair Elizaldy Co to “find ways” to allocate P2 billion in the 2023 national budget to help affected rice retailers.
However, Galang said aid for affected rice retailers in Biñan City has yet to be finalized, primarily due to an apparent confusion as to whose responsibility it was to implement the financial assistance.
“Actually po, noong September 5 ay may instruction sa amin yung boss namin na tumawag sa DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development]. Sabi naman po ng DSWD, wala pang guidelines, pero nung dumating naman po yung DTI, sila daw po ang pipili. Ang magde-decide ng kung sino bibigyan ng ayuda ay ang DTI po yata, tapos po DSWD po ang magbibigay,” he added.
Focus on rice cartels
For some rice retailers, the imposition of price ceilings on their side won’t solve the problems of alleged hoarding and profiteering of rice stocks.
“Kung ako po ang tatanungin, dapat unahin nila dyan yung rice mills,” “Mark” believed. “Kasi dyan nagmumula ang presyo bago sa amin, doon nila unahin yung price cap nila, dapat pababain nila don para pagdating sa amin di mataas, dahil kami ang naiipit.”
That was also the sentiment of Arnold Gregorio, the one rice retailer at the Biñan City Public Market who opened his store during the first day of the implementation of EO 39.
“Ang unang-unang problema po problema di tayo nagkakaisa, sa cartel, sana kung sino pinakapuno nito siya unang magbaba para naman kung ano gusto nila pwede naman namin itinda. Loyal naman kami kasi, kailangan din ng tao, e ang problema lang walang makunan. E ngayon, ang sabi naman magtinda ng P41 saka P45, ayan talo kami diyan,” he said.
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