MANILA, APRIL 28, 2008
(STAR) By James Mananghaya - Small businessmen are now complaining of competition from subsidized food.

Stall owners in the military commissary at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday opposed moves to evict them to give way to the government’s “Bagsakan ng Bayan” project, aimed at selling cheaper goods to soldiers and their families.

Col. Jose Feliciano Loy of the Judge Advocate General’s Office said in an interview that around 20 stall owners in the AFP Commissary and Exchange Services have requested AFP chief Gen. Hermogenes Esperon to allow them to operate for five more years before they are evicted.

“The tenants have invested so much to improve their stores so they need more time to recoup their capital,” Loy said, adding the owners agreed to vacate their stalls provided they would be relocated to a place that is also within the AFPCES after the five-year extension.

Loy, who was sought for help by tenants, said Esperon was also asked to put the Bagsakan ng Bayan at the vacant strip at Capinpin St. inside Camp Aguinaldo instead of putting it inside the AFPCES.

He said Esperon is yet to act on the request of the stall owners, who, according to him, are mostly dependents of retired soldiers.

Last April 21, stall owners received an eviction notice from Navy Capt. Priscillano Ruiz, AFPCES commander and general manager, giving tenants 15 days to vacate their occupied stalls inside the commissary to give way to the Bagsakan ng Bayan project.

The letter, however, did not say whether the stores would be relocated if the eviction pushes through.

Two weeks ago, the AFPCES store at Camp Aguinaldo has been utilized to distribute cheap rice and bread to soldiers and their dependents.

Dependents of military personnel and civilians with commissary privileges could avail of NFA rice at P18 per kilo, which is cheaper by 25 centavos compared to the selling price in markets.

Aside from the NFA rice, bags of cheap bread known as “tinapay ng bayan,” sold for P36 per loaf as an alternative to “pan de sal” which now sells at P2 to P2.50 a piece, were placed on shelves at the AFPCES store.

Military commissaries sell basic goods to soldiers at a cheaper price compared to grocery stores because the government subsidizes its products.

In Sta. Cruz, Manila, Johnny Cuevas, proprietor of Cuevas Bakery located along Blumentritt Street, also protested yesterday the government-subsidized tinapay ng bayan in their barangays, saying its presence is detrimental to their businesses.

In yesterday’s forum “Balitaan sa Tinapayan” in Sampaloc, Manila, Cuevas complained that the TnB, which started only last Friday, would affect the sales of their bakeries. Residents of the depressed communities are expected to take advantage of the TnB that are selling P1.70 per pan de sal compared to the P2 to P2.50 price of bakeries.

The TnB visits the poor areas three times a week, from Friday to Sunday, Cuevas said.

“We are losing about 30 percent of our sales because of the cheap bread being sold by the TnB and also because of the high cost of pan de sal production,” he said.

He cited that before, they were able to sell 35 sacks of rice in one week, but their sales have gone down to just 25 sacks.

Cuevas said that if the government is really bent on helping the small and medium size bakery businesses keep afloat, it should deliver sacks of flour to the communities at a lower price.

But Ric Pinca, executive director of the Philippine Association of Flour Millers (Pafmil), said during the forum that if the bakery owners would directly purchase flour from distributors, they could save P30 because they no longer have to go to a middleman.

The distributor’s price costs P957 per sack while it goes up to P990 to P1,000 if it would have to pass through a middle trader.

Pinca also stressed that they could not drop off few flour sacks in every community because it would entail transportation cost and they also do not have small delivery trucks.

He suggested it would be better if small bakery owners in one area would combine their orders, pull their resources together and make arrangements for a pick-up truck to purchase from the distributor.

He also explained that the TnB would not eat the market of small-time bakeries since they would only be servicing depressed communities such as in Malabon and Tondo, Manila.

Figures culled by Pafmil showed that “there are only 250,000 poor Filipinos in Metro Manila while there are seven million Filipinos residing here.

“We would only be in the area for three days. I don’t think that it would affect the market,” he added.

Pinca also warned there are reports that unbranded flour are being smuggled into the country from China.

“The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) discovered nine sacks of rice from Cagayan Valley. This is unfit for human consumption,” he said. – With Evelyn Macairan

Cement prices up P8 By Edith Regalado Monday, April 28, 2008

DAVAO CITY — Cement prices have risen by at least P8 per bag following the recent increase in the prices of coal in the world market, particularly in Indonesia, Vietnam and Australia.

Holcim Philippines Inc., considered to be the largest of the country’s six cement companies, reportedly now buys coal at $85 to $100 per ton, compared to only $38 per ton late last year.

“So, we have no choice but to increase the prices of our cement because of the over 200 percent increase in the prices of coal,” a company official, who asked for anonymity said.

The demand for coal has reportedly gone up as it is also used by the power sector and the steel industry.

Holcim operates four of the 15 cement plants in the country and it sources its coal mainly from Indonesia, if not Australia. Vietnam has reportedly stopped exporting coal due to the increase in its own demand for fuel.

China reportedly is the top rival of the Philippines in buying coal from other countries.

“China’s demand is so huge so that we have to cope with the rate China is offering the coal-producing countries like Indonesia,” the source said.

“We have to compete with China when we buy coal. We have to also up our buying price so we could get a share of the coal produced by Indonesia.”

However, despite the increase in the prices of cement and even steel, the construction industry reportedly still registers an upsurge these days, especially since property development is up in Metro Manila.

“The demand for cement is highest in Metro Manila with the continued boom in construction,” the source said.

“That is why our plants in Mindanao sometimes have to augment the requirements for cement at our Bulacan plant.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved