Farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) insisted that the government must ensure food supplies and prevent mass hunger especially in Metro Manila as the COVID-19 lockdown drags on. “We are deeply concerned about reports that the movement of food products from nearby provinces is being restrained or even blocked, especially since the streamlining of food circulation has become more crucial under the current health crisis. Now more than ever, the government should assist farmers in the production and distribution of adequate food supplies,” KMP national chairperson Danilo Ramos explains. LGUs are also tasked to provide food packs to poor and indigent families in this time of enhanced lockdown. Their supplies will also come from outside NCR.
The KMP made the statement after receiving several reports which contradict government assurances on the free movement of food products. Since March 16, Bulacan farmers reported that their vegetable produce were blocked from entering Quezon City markets. Fisherfolk organization Pamalakaya reported that some Cavite and Central Luzon fish suppliers and vendors were barred from entering Metro Manila. Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) meanwhile reported trucks carrying sacks of rice from Batangas were also blocked. Due to the long queue of vehicles at checkpoint areas, many food and supply deliveries were also delayed.
By March 17, the Department of Agriculture (DA) began issuing optional “food lane passes” intended to streamline the movement of food and agri-fishery products into Metro Manila by designating an exclusive “food lane” in checkpoints.
KMP however contested this, pointing out that the supposed food lanes are absent in many checkpoints. Ramos shares that “many food trucks still wait in long lines along with other vehicles, endangering the quality of their perishable cargoes. Worse, many of the previously allowed food vendors are now denied entry because they lack the optional passes; checkpoint authorities treat the passes as requirements!”
“The bureaucratic imposition of food lane passes and the militarist orientation of the entire COVID-19 response practically restrained further the flow of food products,” Ramos declares.
The peasant leader fears that the hindered movement of food, along with the panic buying of some consumers, is already affecting the food supply in Metro Manila. Ramos shared that “we are already seeing cases of inflated food prices, particularly fish and vegetables. Some wet markets are also about to close due to the insufficiency of food deliveries.”
Ramos says that these reports are alarming and must be immediately addressed so as to avoid mass hunger or food riots, as was the case in COVID-19 epicentre Hubei, China. The Philippines suffers from a ‘serious’ level of hunger, according to the Global Hunger Index.
“We demand that the free and unhampered movement of food be strictly implemented and that instead of additional accreditation processes, the DA instead undertake a subsidized program to quickly transport food products into urban centers. We reiterate that this is the best course of action for all as it can also drive down food prices while assuring its supply and the livelihood of farmers. Beyond that, especially as the government expects a months-long battle with COVID-19, production subsidies must be provided for farmers as urban populations require more and healthier food in facing the pandemic,” Ramos ends. #
(Featured image from Mideo Cruz)