Addressing the food accessibility problem under ECQ

So what if there is P5,000 to P8,000 cash assistance from the Philippine government if there is nothing to buy?

Just a few days ago, we witnessed a group of citizens protesting for the lack of food. The group was rounded up by government forces with 21 of the protesters charged with various cases — including the violation of the “Heal as One Act” or the Republic Act No. 11469. Unfortunately, prison and insensible government action will never fill a hungry tummy. Take it as a lesson from the French Revolution.

Similarly, distributing money will not solve the issue. Some of those who joined the guerilla warfare in the Bicol Region during the World War II were either insulted or disgruntled because a basketful of Japanese paper money that could not even buy a cup of rice. So before the hungry tummies trigger a major political disruption, let us address the issue being complicated by the enhanced community quarantine and the Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19): the lack of food.

Fortunately, there is ample supply of food according to the Department of Agriculture. Fortunately, too, the government has established mechanisms for an unhampered delivery of supplies. What is in paper, however, is not always true in practice. Hence, while harvests are rotting in farms, food shortage is looming in the country. The reason: transporting the agricultural products to the markets and consumers.

Among those supposedly exempted in checkpoints are cargo trucks and delivery vehicles carrying food products. The problem is, the guidelines are not clearly understood. Checkpoints were hard to deal with making this a bottleneck discouraging buyers and transporters.

So what could be done to address this?

  1. Translate the policies into easily digestible pieces in local and English languages. The fact that the policies are interpreted in different ways simply means they are not clearly understood.
  2. One common complaint is that empty vehicles and trucks are not allowed to pass in checkpoints. There are people manning the checkpoints who argued that only vehicles carrying food products are allowed — as if there is an endless supply of cargo vehicles from the farms, and as if there are sufficient parking spaces in the cities. To address this, a business permit should be enough to prove that the vehicle is used to carry food products, empty or not. It would be better if the Land Transportation Office also get its act and issue RFIDs to these cargo vehicles.
  3. Provide a special lane where cargo vehicles are a priority.
  4. To address the fear of human as COVID carriers, the Masbate province’s practice could be copied.When cargo trucks from different points of Luzon are loaded in roll-on roll-off vessels (ROROs) in Sorsogon ports, the drivers stay behind. Drivers in Masbate City unload the trucks from the ROROs, the government disinfects them, and the vehicles are eventually driven to their points of destination. Similar arrangements can also be done with cargo vehicles going in and out of the National Capital Region with one driver driving only inside the NCR, and another outside. The expressway toll gates should also provide disinfection and quarantine facilities for both the trucks and the drivers.

Do you know of any other ways to address this supply-chain issue? Feel free to drop a comment below.

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