[PHOTO AT LEFT - President Arroyo with Defense Secretary and NDCC chairman Gilbert Teodoro during a meeting at the municipal hall of Cainta, Rizal. WILLY PEREZ |MANILA, Philippines]

MANILA, OCTOBER 3, 2009 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - - President Arroyo ordered yesterday that the list of basic commodities placed under price control be expanded to ensure that all residents affected by tropical storm “Ondoy” would be protected from profiteers.

Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Favila said the President included construction materials such as cement and hollow blocks in the commodities placed under price control since a lot of the affected residents are now rebuilding their flood-damaged homes.

The price control also covers medicine, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), lubricants, agricultural products and funeral services.

Favila said he asked the Department of Justice to study the legality of placing under price control petroleum products like LPG and lubricants since the oil industry is already deregulated.

He said there were also requests for car repair shops and funeral parlors to be placed under price control because of the current huge demand for their services.

Favila said car repair shops would be subjected to a new directive that will be coming out in the next few days.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) placed under price control last Monday 14 basic commodities based on the Price Act.

The President has placed the entire country under a state of calamity, which would pave the way for the government to impose price controls on basic goods and commodities.

Under the Sept. 26 price ceiling issued by the DTI, the products covered are canned sardines in tomato sauce, processed milk (condensed, evaporated and powdered), coffee refills, luncheon meat, corned beef, meat loaf, beef loaf, instant noodles, cane vinegar, patis or fish sauce, soy sauce, detergent/laundry soap, toilet soap, and batteries.

The government has issued a stern warning against violators of the government-imposed price ceilings.

Favila said the DTI has deputized the market administrators as well as supermarket associations to discipline their ranks.

The National Bureau of Investigation has also assigned 100 field agents to work with the DTI to monitor the compliance of the retailers to the price ceiling.

The President said the Philippine National Police should provide assistance to the DTI because there have been reports of violent resistance from some retailers.

“They have to apprehend (uncooperative traders) already,” the President said.

Favila said a number of big and small retailers have been apprehended although a lot of them have been asking for reconsideration.

He said some retailers were blaming their suppliers for the hike in their prices.

“I have explained to the retailers that the law does not make a distinction. They were pointing to their suppliers. We will extend our understanding but they have to tell us who their suppliers are. Then we will apprehend the suppliers,” Favila said.

Favila also asked the Department of the Interior and Local Government to help the DTI in efforts to crack down on the erring retailers.

He said the DILG should ensure that the business permits of the concerned retailers are cancelled once the DTI withdraws the business names of these companies so that they would have no reason to operate.

Favila gave assurance that the supply of basic goods is normalizing as the suppliers have vowed to have continuous deliveries.

Mrs. Arroyo also ordered the importation of one million cup noodles to prevent a shortage in local markets.

Favila clarified that the absence of several food items in supermarkets was not due to panic buying but rather to the bulk purchases made by some consumers, which were intended for donations to relief centers.

Supermarket cashiers who were absent for the past days have also returned to their posts and would in effect reduce the long lines of consumers.

Drug firms approve price freeze

The Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippine (PHAP) gave assurance yesterday that the drug companies would not take advantage of the havoc wreaked by Ondoy and raise prices.

In a statement, PHAP president Oscar Aragon said their more than 50 member-companies have committed to freeze the prices of essential medicine at “prevailing prices prior to the calamity brought by the flooding in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.”

“We assure the public that our member manufacturers and distributors have maintained the prices of their products especially during this time of calamity,” he added.

Aragon also urged drug retail outlets and hospital pharmacies to do the same.

Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. yesterday announced that there would be no increase in the price of LPG this month.

Shell country chairman Edgar Chua said the company would also keep the price of lubricants, which will likely be used for the repair of vehicles damaged by Ondoy, will also be kept at current levels.

The international contract price of LPG increased by $3 per metric ton (MT) this month, which is supposed to result in a 20-centavo price increase on LPG products.

“We will not increase (prices of) LPG and lubricants in order to help in the rehabilitation,” Chua said.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said there was a “very minimal” increase in imported LPG prices.

“The increase price of the imported LPG of course is very minimal and therefore I see no reason why there should be any increase in the price of local LPG,” he said.

Reyes said the DOE has prepared a contingency plan for typhoon “Pepeng.”

He said they are closely coordinating with the power industry players to make sure that all vital power facilities are protected from the impact of the incoming weather disturbance.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture assured the people yesterday that there is sufficient supply of rice in the market despite the devastation of about 130,000 hectares of rice fields by Ondoy.

Agriculture Undersecretary Jess Paras told reporters at the weekly news forum Balitaan sa Rembrandt Hotel in Quezon City that as of yesterday the damage to agriculture included P3.6 billion worth of palay, P127 million in the fisheries sector, and P4 million worth of corn.

He said the hardest hit agricultural areas were Bulacan and Pampanga where 137,000 hectares of rice fields were damaged.

Paras said the farmers and the rest of the residents in Luzon should brace for the coming of Pepeng.

He, however, clarified that even if the coming typhoon hits the rice-producing provinces in Luzon, there will be enough rice for consumers in the coming months.

“We have enough supply of rice, our buffer stock is adequate for the next 40 days,” he said.

He said aside from the 40-day rice stock, the government has also imported 1.7 million metric tons of rice enough for the next several months.

Paras said the government is now in the process of helping some 130,000 rice farmers affected by the recent typhoon and rehabilitation of fishponds is also underway to help the fisheries sector.

The agriculture department has also initiated precautionary measures to minimize the damage on the rice sector by providing farmers with post-harvest facilities to store their palay as the super typhoon approaches.

Post-harvest facilities are usually typhoon-resistant structures where farmers can temporarily store their harvest.

“We will also provide seeds to farmers so that they again plant their crops for the next harvest season,” Paras said.

FPI forms price monitors

Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) president Jesus Arranza announced that their Construction Group has formed industry-wide monitoring teams to monitor the prices and supply of construction materials to prevent price manipulators that are taking advantage of the disaster.

FPI’s Construction Group consists of industry associations of local producers of cement, glass, steel bars, roofing sheets, pipes, ceramic tiles, wood, and electrical wiring.

The members of the group will work with the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC) to determine priority areas for assistance.

They will also coordinate with the DTI to help ensure supply and stable prices of these materials.

The areas, which would require the needed volume of construction materials for rehabilitation efforts, will be given sufficient inventory for the stocking of items at regular prices.

The FPI group is conducting its own surveillance activities to monitor the retail prices of construction materials.

They will report to authorities retailers who are taking advantage of the situation, and the stores and locations of such retailers selling these products at unreasonable prices will likewise be reported. The DTI is expected to take appropriate action to penalize these profiteering retailers.

With the joint action of the FPI’s Construction Materials Group, the DTI, and the NDCC, the continued supply and stable prices of construction materials will be assured. - With Perseus Echeminada, Ma. Elisa Osorio, Donnabelle Gatdula and Sheila Crisostomo

UN World Food Program relief operation in RP intensified By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) Updated October 03, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) is expanding its relief operation in the Philippines, aiming to reach one million people with food aid this month to help them cope with the effects of tropical storm “Ondoy.”

The WFP is beginning to distribute almost 750 metric tons of rice in the worst hit areas, including Metro Manila.

“This is a catastrophe for the people of the Philippines and our hearts go out to them,” said WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran.

The Philippine government has already launched a massive relief operation and has asked for international assistance. The WFP is helping authorities make sure that storm victims receive food and other essential supplies.

The WFP is also lending helicopters and boats to help the government conduct relief operations in remote areas, rescue displaced persons, and assess damage to infrastructure.

Earlier this week, a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team found that poor drainage systems and garbage disposal problems in the Philippines aggravated the impact of the killer storm.

With a new typhoon entering the country, United Nations Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said a “sustained food aid will be needed since large tracts of agricultural lands have been ruined.”

Some 8.5 million people lie in the path of super typhoon “Pepeng,” with 1.8 million people in areas where winds are expected to reach hurricane strength.

UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (EXCAP) Executive Secretary Noeleen Heyzer said the disaster underscores the urgency for progress in climate change talks, which are now underway in Bangkok.

“Climate change will only increase the magnitude and frequency of weather-related disasters,” Heyzer said.

Bangko Sentral to adopt package of relief measures By Lawrence Agcaoili (The Philippine Star) Updated October 03, 2009 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas is set to adopt a package of relief measures for banks to enable them to extend assistance to bank customers adversely affected by tropical storm “Ondoy.”

In a statement, the central bank said the Monetary Board approved a package of relief measures for commercial, rural, and thrift banks as well as cooperative banks to help ease the financial burdens of bank customers.

As part of the temporary relief measures, the existing loans of borrowers in affected areas would be excluded from the computation of past due ratios provided these are restructured or given relief.

Furthermore, the general loan loss provision for restructured loans of borrowers in affected areas would be reduced to one percent from five percent. The penalties for delays in the submission of supervisory reports were also suspended.

Entitled to the relief measures are banks located in the National Capital Region, Mt. Province, Ifugao and Benguet, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur, Isabela, Quirino, Nueva Vizcaya, Aurora, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Pampanga, Bulacan, Tarlac, Bataan, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, Quezon, Mindoro Occidental, Mindoro Oriental, Marinduque, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte and Camarines Sur.

Banks in these areas would also be allowed to provide financial assistance to their officers and employees who were affected by the calamity. The assistance will include those that may not be within the scope of the existing BSP-approved Fringe Benefit Program.

The central bank also granted a 60-day grace period to settle the outstanding rediscounting obligations as of Sept. 28 with the BSP of all rediscounting banks in the affected areas.

The relief measures would also allow banks to restructure with the BSP the outstanding rediscounted loans of borrowers affected by the calamity.

The MB also extended relief measures to rural banks, thrift banks, and cooperative banks including the suspension of penalties for reserve deficiencies arising from calamity-related conditions as well as the penalties related to the payments of these banks from ongoing rehabilitation programs.

The MB also allowed banks to spread out over a maximum of five years the allowances for probable losses from credit exposures to individuals and business units directly affected by the tropical storm.

These measures would be in effect for a defined period and covered by additional specific and other prudential conditions.

The central bank’s Monetary Board also extended relief measures to thrift and rural or cooperative banks located in the provinces that were hit by other destructive typhoons such as “Milenyo,” “Cosme,” and “Frank.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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