Price freeze looming

A PRICE freeze order awaits provincial retailers after the Cebu Provincial Government declared a state of calamity yesterday afternoon due to El Niño.

Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Cebu Consumer Welfare Division Chief Zaide Bation said the agency has started to check the province-wide prevailing prices of basic necessities, which include canned goods, bottled water, coffee, bread, processed milk, instant noodles and laundry soap.

Section 6 of Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act says that a price freeze is automatically implemented during a state of calamity to prevent overpricing of goods.

“We in DTI will have to decide first what products will be part of the price freeze, if it will only be bottled water or should we include other goods like those that have a large consumption of water,” Bation said in a phone interview.

The DTI official, however, declined to cite a specific date of the publication of the price freeze order, but assured that DTI will do it as soon as possible. A price freeze is takes effect on the same day of the publication, Bation said. Today, DTI is scheduled to meet with retailers.

On their end, Philippine Retailers Association (PRA) Cebu assured that they will comply with the price freeze order of the DTI. Robert Go, the organization president, said he sees no problem with the freezing order since prices of goods lately have remained stable.

In particular, Go said bottled water will certainly be covered in the price freeze considering the water shortage brought by the El Niño.

A price control could be effective for 60 days unless sooner lifted. Bation clarified that the price freeze order will be “brand and weight-specific.”

The Price Act penalizes illegal price manipulation such as profiteering and imposes imprisonment of five years up to fifteen years and administrative fine of P5,000 up to P1 million.

Meanwhile, DTI Assistant Regional Director Nelia Navarro and DTI Cebu Director Nanette Arbon said last week that there have been no significant price increases in manufactured goods this year. “If there was, just very little,” said Navarro.

Last March, inflation increased by 1.1 percent from 0.9 percent in February. However, this is still lower from the 2.4 percent inflation recorded in the same month last year.

In a statement, the National Economic Development Authority said food inflation last month was higher due to the price increases in meat, fish, milk, cheese and eggs.

Rice prices were surprisingly lower despite the El Niño.

While implementing the Roadmap for Addressing the Impact of El Niño (RAIN), Economic Planning Secretary Emmanuel F. Esguerra said the government would also have to prepare for La Niña since this will likely bring higher-than-normal rainfall in the Philippines in the latter half of the year.

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