Briones: The pork problem

Publio J. Briones III
·2 min read

I thought the prices of pork here in Cebu would finally go down after Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia banned the export of live hogs and sows for six months back in January.

I thought Cebu, as a whole, had enough supply to satisfy the needs of the public and drive prices back to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

But I guess I was wrong.

When I went to buy pork last week, prices for choice cuts were still above P300 per kilo. Although, I shouldn’t complain because I heard that back in Metro Manila, it’s even worse with adobo cut and pork belly going for more than P400 per kilo.

It’s insane, really, considering that pork is the staple meat for much of the Christian population in the archipelago. And it’s not only pork. Prices of poultry and fish have also gone through the roof.

Oh, who am I kidding? Everything has been more expensive since the government imposed lockdowns to try and contain the spread of the coronavirus.

So why is this happening?

At the onset of the health crisis, the government ordered the freezing of prices of basic goods. It later lifted the order, but it doesn’t mean the Department of Trade and Industry has not been monitoring prices to prevent price manipulation and hoarding and to stop unscrupulous individuals from taking advantage of “artificial” shortages of goods. And yet prices remain high.

If I had the answer, I wouldn’t be asking the question.

In fact, I often wonder how shoppers manage. With so many people out of work or having been forced to accept pay cuts, it’s amazing that they could still afford to buy.

When President Rodrigo Duterte recently announced that he would allow pork importation to increase and he would cut tariffs on pork imports for 12 months, I thought the public would rejoice.

For one, the move should address the shortage problem, especially after the African swine fever had decimated a third of the country’s hog population in 38 provinces, including Metro Manila, since 2019.

But Albay Rep. Joey Salceda and Gabriela Rep. Arlene Brosas believed the move would only “harm the domestic industry” with Brosas saying that pork tariff cuts were a “death sentence” to the local hog industry.

Salceda told Inquirer.net that it would be naïve to think that traders would sell at lower prices just because imports are priced more cheaply, adding that “traders were pocketing up to 110 percent in gross margins” already.

Hold on a minute. So it would appear that traders and not hog raisers have been making a killing in profits. That the shortage of supply is not the sole reason for the exorbitant prices.

So what is the government waiting for?