MANILA - Lifting of price freeze on basic necessities may lead to price increases on essential goods, a consumer welfare group warned Friday, as the government begins to relax lockdown rules in various parts of the country.
Laban Konsyumer said that if the price freeze on basic goods ends on Friday, retailers and manufacturers will take advantage and increase prices immediately.
“Ang signal niyan sa mga negosyante, 'Oh, umpisahan na natin 'yung ating mga proposal for price increases,” said Laban Konsyumer president Vic Dimagiba.
(That's a signal for merchants to say, "Oh, let's start our proposals for price increases.")
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Agriculture (DA), and Department of Health (DOH) on May 8 issued joint memorandum circular (JMC) No. 2020-01 entitled "Price Freeze under a State of Calamity throughout the Philippines due to the Coronavirus Disease 2019."
Under that JMC, prices of basic necessities under the jurisdiction of the DTI, DA, and DOH were fixed at their prevailing levels, effective until Friday. These included food, water, agricultural products, medicine, and medical supplies.
Dimagiba said the agencies can recommend to President Rodrigo Duterte to extend the price freeze.
“Kung ang intention at spirit ng Bayanihan to Heal as One Act ang ating susundin, hindi mo basta-basta pwedeng i-lift. Even then, kung talagang gustong tumulong ng pamahalaan, itong mga regulators [should] ensure na ang presyo ay stable. Wala nang magsasamantala na, magtataasan ng presyo,” he said, citing the measure, which strictly prohibits overpricing and hoarding of goods during the pandemic.
(If we are following the intention and spirit of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, we can't just lift the price freeze. Even then, if the government really wants to help, these regulators should ensure prices are stable. No one should take advantage, increase prices.)
But Trade Undersecretary Ruth Castelo explained that they have to follow the Price Act, which states that any price control in the country should be effective not for more than 60 days. She said this is why different agencies are also issuing suggested retail prices (SRPs).
“Between the Executive Order of the President and a law passed by the Congress, promulgated by Congress, susundin natin siyempre 'yung Price Act,” she explained.
(Between the Executive Order of the President and a law passed by the Congress, promulgated by Congress, we should follow the Price Act.)
“Mayroong mga measures naman provided in the Price Act like the mandatory price ceiling. Upon the lifting of the 60-day-period, pwedeng mag-recommend ang implementing agencies ng price ceiling to the President, and then when the President approves it, yun ang i-implement natin na presyo but we have the suggested retail price which is strictly enforced,” she added.
(There are measures in the Price Act, like the mandatory price ceiling. Upon the lifting of the 60-day-period, implementing agencies can recommend price ceilings to the President, and then when the President approves it, they will be implemented by us, but we have the suggested retail price which is strictly enforced.)
She said that the DTI has been coordinating with law enforcement groups such as the police, military and the National Bureau of Investigation as early as January, during the Taal Volcano eruption to strictly enforce implementation of the SRPs.
“Remember in the Price Act, ang fini-freeze natin ay prevailing price. Magkakaiba 'yun per region, per province. Very challenging ang implementation namin ng price freeze per province. meron pang iba per municipalities, unlike the suggested retail price that we have that covers all regions and provinces in the country.”
(Remember in the Price Act, what we are freezing our prevailing prices. They are different per region, per province. Our implementation of price freeze is very challenging as they differ per province and even per municipalities, unlike the suggested retail price that we have that covers all regions and provinces in the country.)
She assured the DTI will not approve pending requests from manufacturers of processed milk, detergent soap, processed canned goods, and condiments to increase prices anytime soon, while the country is still fighting COVID-19.
DTI chief Ramon Lopez earlier said that while the Philippines stays under state of calamity due to the COVID-19 pandemic, price freeze will stay in place.
"We will just renew the price freeze. Kasi nasa batas, 60 days lang ang price freeze (Under law, price freeze is only for 60 days). Pagka-state of calamity, price freeze talaga (During state of calamity, price freeze is really implemented)," he said.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar meanwhile they will look into expanding the SRPs of agricultural and fishery products to include more items that were previously not covered. He also appealed to retailers and producers not to take advantage of the situation.
“Kung wala kaming basehan sa prize freeze, pag-aaralan namin kung pwede na yung suggested retail price mechanism. Let me again request everyone not to take advantage during calamities or pandemic like COVID-19. Tulong-tulong po tayo sa ating mga mamamayan, mga magsasaka, mangingisda at tsaka consuming public," he said.
(If we don't yet have any basis on prize freeze, we will study if the suggested retail price mechanism is okay. Let me again everyone not to take advantage during calamities or pandemic like COVID-19. Let us help our citizens, farmers, fishermen and consuming public.)