Sometime ago, a TV station had a vegetable consciousness segment where young boys and girls recited verses titled “Ang (name of vegetable) Bow!
So there was “Ang sitaw, bow!” and “Ang pechay, bow.”
But I do not recall a segment where the merits of onions were featured.
Now, the DA, the BoC, the farming sector, the “international traders,” otherwise known as smugglers, and, worse of all, the hard-hit consumers, have altogether elevated the ordinary “sibuyas” into the pantheon of national, even international, fame or notoriety.
Sibuyas, whether red or white, small or large, local or imported, has bedeviled our agriculture officials like never before.
And the saga of the sibuyas continues, seemingly without an end.
DA spokespersons touted the soon-to-be-released SRP on onions, or suggested retail price, a useless optical contraption designed to make our consumer think that government can “order” market forces to behave, just like King Canute tried ordering the waves to stop.
And then, just as soon as the spokespersons’ saliva had dried (they are in denial mode, looking for culprits who leaked), their quasi-boss, the primus inter pares among all the undersecretaries of the spooked DA, refused to sign the memorandum mandating the SRP.
Having been in the department for as long as baby boomers can remember, maybe, just maybe, the senior undersecretary knew all along that the SRP was just a tool for optics.
A Batangueno to the core, he must have realized “sino ‘ga ang niloloko natin!”
And then there is the on-again, off-again “raid,” or to be legally correct, “inspection” of onion cold storage facilities to determine if traders are into hoarding and its corollary market effect – profiteering.
Por Dios y por todos los santos, how many onion cold storage facilities are there in this technologically-challenged land?
First of all, you cannot store onions the same way you freeze poultry or meat to prolong its shelf life and marketability.
Onion storages require a precise temperature and humidity controlled environment, as even the ordinary Bureau of Plant Industry employee knows, (or pardon my assuming), or ought to know.
Higher than the precise temperature or humidity band, and the onions begin to sprout.
Lower than that band, it dries up, “reseco” as every player in the value chain knows. Either way, the onions either rot or are deemed unmarketable.
By the way, do not such agricultural machineries placed in cold storages pass through another DA agency, the PhilMech, which is supposed to inspect and accredit these? So they have the records, right?
So if BPI, BoC and DA are serious, they could have inspected the few such cold storage facilities in the country by now.
After all, it has been seven months, eight even, that the anomaly of that poster boy of food insecurity, the lowly sibuyas, has haunted the consumers.
No solution in sight.
Yet, our economic managers assure us that the 2022-2023 chapter on the saga of the sibuyas will not happen in the last quarter or even next year.
The Bangko Sentral chimes in with its assurance that come September, inflation will go down to the 4 percent level.
Promise ulit, ha?
DA, BPI, even our legislators have long known who is considered the “reina de las sibuyas,” once and perhaps till now also “reina de los ajos.”
And her reign will likely outnumber the years Elizabeth II had been head of state, assuming she lives beyond the years of the quintessential survivor, the supra-intelligent Juan Ponce Enrile.
As it has been in sibuyas, so it is with asukal.
Despite so many fumbles, from the incipient SRA sugar order to import sugar which was rescinded due to politics from the weakened “sugar bloc” (hindi mamaytay-matay), and sugar prices rising to P110-130 per kilo, then an emergency import, followed by a controversial 440,000 metric ton import, which the lone opposition in the Senate exposed with good research, the price of sugar has yet to be tamed.
And the favored importers are still laughing all the way to their banks.
Befuddled, bewildered and likely bewitched, officials now tell us they will strengthen and modernize agricultural information systems, so supply shortages or surpluses can be properly monitored.
There used to be a Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, which the law creating the Philippine Statistics Authority subsumed, and no longer under DA, but NEDA.
It was functioning very efficiently then, under the leadership of now retired ASec Romeo Recide, a constant Philippine delegate to food and agricultural fora because of his wealth of expertise, just as then USec for Planning and Policy Fred Serrano, now retired as well.
DA and its agencies relied on BAS for the right statistical measurements and forecasts, which were most always reliable.
Who minds the store now, and how?
I do not relish having to keep writing about our food insecurity or consumer woes in this benighted country.
But if there is one issue that the people have to confront day-in and day-out, it is food inflation and supply shortages.
“Politica del estomago” always prevails, and optics like Kadiwa and SRP cannot forever paper over the daily realities of life.
And lest I forget, a happy birthday to former Senator Ping Lacson, who commemorates it today, 01 June, who has re-invented his career from most effective police chief to a brilliant senator, to now a gentleman farmer.
What was it Pres. Elpidio Quirino, one of our great presidents, once said?
“It is not who can lead, but who ought to lead,” words which our electorate have most often failed to heed.
I hope Ping succeeds in his new endeavor, which could be a trail-blazer in our long quest for food security.
Whatever, the Senate would be a much more credible institution from what it presently is, if men like Ping Lacson re-populate it.