By Miguel Raymundo
Business cartels always had their way with the government. How the abuse of their control over government hits the consumers again gets public attention on the price hike of garlic.
Garlic, a food ingredient, has not gone scarce in the market. Only that its price has shot up 900 percent from P17.00 to P300.00 per kilo. The conclusion of Senator Cynthia Villar is this is price manipulation.
Everybody is guessing what caused this. Was it a surge in demand for the food ingredient? Did supply decline? If things were normal except for a spike in prices, what gave the courage to traders and the cartel to manipulate the prices?
In a hearing in the Senate called by Sen. Cynthia Villar, government officials and industry leaders admitted the spike in the price of garlic stemmed from price manipulation.
While the garlic price shot up to outrageous level, consumers also suffered price spike in rice, basic food commodity in the country.
Price of well-milled rice shot up by 19 percent from its year ago prices. Commercial rice was selling at minimum of P42.00 per kilo in the market.
The price hike in rice, though, benefitted farmers as farm gate prices of palay went up to P25.00 per kilo.
Food cartels are moving, preparing to control their respective markets, with the garlic and food ingredient group taking the first bold move.
In this country cartels get what they want. They can force the President to reorganize government to accommodate their interests. And this power was again confirmed at the Department of Agriculture where these food cartels dictate their terms of engagement.
A secretary of agriculture is always at the mercy of these cartels. And Secretary Proceso Alcala of the DA is the latest victim of this cartel’s influence in government.
The DA under Alcala was lately chopped and taken away from him were “problematic” agencies like the NFA, PCA, and NIA. These agencies were given to former Senator Francisco Pangilinan, now the country’s food czar.He now sits in PNoy’s official cabinet.
Alcala refused to be dictated by the rice cartel and other food cartels. Instead,he went to the farms and encouraged farmers to plant more. He made it hard for the cartel to operate and contained massive rice smuggling.
Sources in the agriculture sector say Alcala’s vigilance and independence from the rice cartel ended up with savings in tens of billions of pesos in rice importation.
Same sources said, more than savings, Alcala was pushing for higher local production and improved food security. There is no food security in rice and farm product importation. He was pushing for higher income to farmers to encourage local production.
“Smuggling farm product is the cause of slow death of agriculture in the country,” they said.
But those billions of pesos lost by the cartels funded his removal. The strongest lobby to oust a cabinet member supported by media budget in tens of millions of pesos did Alcala in. He lost to the rice cartel lobby and is now a paper tiger in the farmers’ fight against powerful traders.
That the garlic cartel is not bothered a bit by some senators concern over this price manipulation could only mean confidence on their hold on some government officials, some of them in Malacañang.
With the price manipulation earning for these garlic and food ingredient traders over Php25Billion, they can buy everyone and anyone in this government.