When food was scarce

THE prices of basic commodities are rising to apprehensive heights and it seems that the government is at a loss on how to stop the escalation. Last month we raised concerns when inflation raised over 4.5% from the government projections of acceptable 3%. As of this writing the country’s inflation rate has reached 6.5% and is going up without any hope that it will either be contained soon. Reports from provinces say prices of vegetables have tripled since last month.

We are in for hard times. The government seemed unable to control the galloping prices but unwilling to remove their causes. While the nation’s economic advisers and Congress are concerned, they do not want to suspend the new taxes imposed by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN. The rise in prices came about a few months after the passage of TRAIN. The correlation cannot be avoided, for in fact, TRAIN increased taxes on commodities that have direct bearing on costs, like fuel and increased value added tax base.

But the government refuses to budge because it needed money, much money for its ambitious “build, build, build” program that we commented on last year to be a stimulus for inflation.

With that inflexible position, the people must bear the burdens as we did in times past – the scarcities of World War II and how our people survived by the proverbial skin of their teeth.

Historically, prices rise for two main reasons, scarcity and inflation and we must learn how to cope when the cost of everything skyrockets.

It is always wise to see the present from the eyes of the past because we learn to be hopeful.

Despair can lead to dangerous actions but hope makes the most difficult life bearable. Indeed, some of the “solutions” going around these days are not new. They were experiences during the war.

War always restricts the production of basic commodities as the resources of the nation are diverted to produce the means for fighting a war. Even scraps are collected for the war machines and labor is diverted from industries and farms to the war effort. Able-bodied men and women are mobilized to man the ramparts against the enemy or bring the war into the doorsteps of the enemy.

World War II in the Philippines began on December 10, two days after Pearl Harbor attack, when Japanese military forces swooped down on US airfields and subsequently landed troops on Batangas, Lingayen and Davao. The people had panicked for the swiftness of the invasion and a rampage to stock on food and necessities ensued. There was no government control so that the wealthy were able to hoard while others could only purchase the basics – cooking oil or lard, sugar, coffee, soap, matches, kerosene which was the main fuel for lighting, dried fish and fermented shrimp. Rice was not hoarded since that was harvest time but scarcities began.

Until the middle of 1942, there was still food, vegetable was plenty in the backyard or the neighbor’s home garden. Sharing with neighbors was a Filipino trait. The farms were still being cultivated, at least in the Visayas but food could not be shipped to Luzon and Mindanao because of the naval blockade by the Japanese Navy. The US Navy left the Philippines before the Japanese invaded and there was no air force. We were naked for aggression. However, heavy fighting was limited to Mindanao and Luzon. The Japanese strategy was to box in the Visayas that were expected to fall with the collapse of the Luzon and Mindanao commands.

The Japanese commandeered food for their troops and sugar for shipment to Japan and alcohol processing for fuel. The scarcity of food forced the Japanese to ration rice, a few necessities and none other. It was this time when Filipinos in the towns learned backyard gardening mainly of vegetables and root crops. Soap and matches were premium items. Rice was cultivated but the Japanese took the first cut, the guerrillas another and the farmers got whatever was left. Some rice lands were converted into cotton fields. Hunger was a reality. Hunger bred diseases, mental retardation and even insanity. The present inflation will not result to this level of misery but it will feed anger.

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Erratum: In my article headlined “Obey first, regret later,” I wrote in the 6th paragraph that President Gloria Arroyo granted the amnesty to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. It was President Benigno Aquino III. My apologies.

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