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Letters from Davao: Sustaining Manila’s Food Supply by Jun Ledesma

PHILIPPINES, JUST LIKE most countries in the world, are affected by the impact of the spike of oil prices and the decline of productivity on account of immense weather disturbances. We are not immune from these iniquities and there seems to be no adequate and quick solutions for these problems.

Let’s face it. We have no control on oil commodities, although considering the suspension of excise tax is an option. But tinkering with the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Act (TRAIN) which is now in full force may impact on many government programs which could just complicate matters. Additional revenues from TRAIN are earmarked for the Build, Build, Build program. This comprehends of big ticket infrastructure projects that would address gargantuan problems and opportunities mostly in Metro Manila and balance Luzon. Increase of salaries in government bureaucracy starting with the military and police forces, free education in state colleges and universities and tax exemptions of nearly 80% of the country’s wage earners to name just a few.

The problem here is that we are a whole basket of “talangka” pulling each other so we stay like wretched and bellyaching nation not to mention the penchant of our students for radicalism. We want to control inflation and bring this to the level of 3% forgetting or stonewalling some hard realities that we are a net-importer of oil and shutting off the hard reality that the price of oil had increased by over $32/barrel in just about one year since Venezuela stop pumping oil and Iran closing the spigots of their oil wells on account of embargo imposed by the Western power. I am sure that the critics know about this but conveniently leave this issue to put all the blame on the present administration.

Add to this equation the lack of rice supply and we have a situation ripe for inflation and the Duterte administration open to an organized assault of salivating opposition that can deal with the devil to oust Duterte.

But surprises can from where it is least expected. Before they scooted to Hong Kong for a weekend respite, I had this interesting conversation with SAP Bong Go. Just like many of us “taga bundok”, as Jim Paredes would dub Mindanaoans, Bong saw the abundant harvests of various crops from Davao. “Hindi ko ma-intindihan kung bakit napakamahal ng bilihin sa Metro Manila. I-santabi muna natin yong bigas, pero yong gulay, isda at yong mga karaniwang binibili natin sa araw araw nating kinakain ay napakamahal sa Maynila.

Our conversation led to a more serious exchanges. I didn’t know SAP Bong Go has been internalising so many suggestions that he said was passed on to him. He recalled that once, Sen. Dick Gordon had proposed to send, on regular basis, the military’s C130 not for a combat mission but to ferry marine products and fruits from Jolo. Of late, he said, Agriculture Sec. Manny Pinol did just that – ferrying vegetables from Bukidnon to San Andres market in Malate. Bong said that this should be institutionalised. He said that it is time a permanent food terminal like the one established by Marcos in Taguig before be restored. He said that it is unfortunate that the Cory government virtually disregarded that food terminal. Bong said that the last time he knew of what happened to that food terminal was that some of its real estate assets were sold and its cold storage and processing facilities were just leased.

Secretary Bong is correct. I remembered that Marcos set the Food Terminal Inc. to help vegetable farmers and fruit growers, fishermen and even hog raisers from Mindanao to sell their products at better prices in Metro Manila which is the biggest consumer market in the country. It was also meant to augment supply in the capital region which relied mainly on vegetable producers in Benguet, Batangas and Tagaytay. Bong said, “ngayon maliit na lang ang taniman ng gulay samantalang lumalaki ang population sa Metro Manila. Pagkata-on ito na kumita naman ang mga magbubukid sa Mindanao at Sulu”. Farmers in Mindanao can maximise their production if they are motivated by profits and assurance of markets, he said.

Bong explained that he hopes that some investors can look into this opportunity. In the meantime he said, during calamity situations military cargo planes maybe used. He said that later President Duterte may be able “persuade” Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific to allocate in every flight cargo space for perishable products from Mindanao in special freight rates. Bong Go, who is a business graduate, said that possibly the Bureau of Internal Revenue may also exempt from tax agricultural products that are for human consumption that will be airlifted to Manila. “It is about time we help our farmers and at the same flood markets in Metro Manila to bring down the prices of basic consumer’s products which are being manipulated by unscrupulous traders,” Bong said.

Sometimes, solutions to problems need simple and out-of-the-box solutions. SAP Bong Go speaks from where he came from – Davao City and Davao Oriental. And I can attest to this. Your favorite lakatan bananas that sells beyond P150 per hand in Manila supermarkets and in public markets are actually sold in Barangay Tambobong, Davao City to middle men for P10 pesos. Vegetables from the farmers’ bagsakan in Marilog sell from P2/kg but are sold in Manila at astronomical price. Longkong lanzones variety are sold in farmers’ gate at P25/kg and sells in Davao sidewalk for P50/kg. In Rockwell Mall, it is sold at P900/kg! Fish, shellfish are incredibly cheap in Davao Oriental, Davao City and General Santos City. Mangosteen in Jolo, I heard sells at P5-15/kg in Jolo and P160/kg in Manila and 7-yuan a piece in Beijing.

Indeed a one man idea is sometime better than what all the bright boys in congress combined. By the way, there is now a direct Cathay Pacific flight from Davao to HK. I don’t know if Bong and his boss, the President, are there to look for buyers of Davao products. Come to think of it… why not? (Jun Ledesma)


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