(February 2, 2021) – The government will set a price ceiling for pork and chicken next week, pushing back its implementation by a week after the president signed an order to check soaring prices, a spokesman for the farm department said on Tuesday.

Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes, spokesman for the agriculture department, said the price cap for pork and poultry products would be set on February 8 to give market vendors time to sell their inventories before the price ceiling takes effect.

However, some hog traders and producers have threatened to cut production to protest the price freeze order, which they said would result in losses as supply remained tight due to the impact of the African Swine Fever (ASF) which hit production bases in Luzon.

“We can say that’s a grace period,” Reyes told BusinessWorld Live. “The retailers asked us to give them reprieve because they bought their inventory from previous prices, so they’ll have to recover their costs.”

President Rodrigo Duterte signed Executive Order No. 124 on February 1 imposing a price ceiling on selected pork and chicken products sold in the National Capital Region within 60 days. It came following the proposal made by Agriculture Secretary William Dar the previous week.

Dar said the implementation of such a measure would benefit consumers who bore the brunt of soaring food prices over the previous weeks, with pork products reaching as much as P400 per kilo.

Under the recently signed measure, the cost of pork “kasim” and “pigue” should not go beyond P270, while pork “liempo” should not go past P300 per kilo. Chicken prices, on the other hand, stand at a much lower rate of P160 each kilo.

Agriculture officials blamed the African swine fever as the primary culprit that led to the dwindling supply of hogs in Metro Manila. It has infected thousands of hogs in Luzon, reaching Leyte province in Eastern Visayas last month.

Dar also blamed alleged profiteering schemes of suppliers and wholesalers who further pushed the prices to go even higher. But hog raisers countered Dar’s claim during a Senate hearing on Monday, saying that suppliers cannot hoard the supply because of the threats brought about by the ASF.

Reyes said the Department of Agriculture has been preparing to provide incentives to hog raisers and traders in green zones or those areas with no detected case of ASF to boost supply in Metro Manila.

“Currently we don’t have enough supply here in Luzon, but we’re encouraging hog raisers. We’re providing transportation support for them to ship their hogs to Metro Manila,” Reyes said, adding that the Land Bank of the Philippines and the agricultural credit policy of the DA will set aside enough funding that hog raisers can borrow to repopulate their hogs.

The Philippine Tariff Commission will also hear proposals to cut tariffs on pork and rice imports on Thursday. The DA wanted to lower in-quota pork tariffs to 5 percent for the first six months of implementation, which will subsequently be raised to 10 percent for the next six months.

But senators opposed this proposal, citing the difficulties that local producers would have to face amid the anticipated increase in competition once imported supplies arrive.

Opposition Senator Francis Pangilinan also urged the agriculture department to run after food price manipulators instead of merely imposing a price cap, which he called “ineffective”.

“Sa gitna ng pandemya na walang trabaho at kulang ang kita, hindi pwede itong price cap lang ang isasagot natin sa hirap at gutom na nararamdaman ng ating mga kababayan,” Pangilinan said.

“Hindi natin pinalampas ang mga mapagsamantala. Ganyan din dapat ngayon.”

(Beatrice Puente/MM)