From the Newsrooms: Monsoon rains flood NCR; Price cap on rice

A rundown of key issues covered by newsrooms from August 28 to September 3, 2023

SUPER TYPHOON Goring, Typhoon Hanna and the prevailing southwest monsoons drenched Metro Manila, including some provinces in Northern Luzon and Western Visayas with continuous rain. Widespread flooding disrupted the first week of classes and government work. Ariel Rojas, resident meteorologist of ABS-CBN, noted in his August 31 report for TV Patrol that in Quezon City alone, rain recorded by the state weather bureau from 2 to 8 am that day was equivalent to a week’s worth of rainfall. But he did not elaborate further, while other reports were bereft of such comparative notes. 

Broadcast reports took advantage of visuals gathered by reporters to show conditions in flood-prone areas such as España Boulevard and Taft Avenue in Manila; nearby coastal cities Malabon, Valenzuela and Navotas; and further out, the towns of Calumpit and Hagonoy in Bulacan and Macabebe in Pampanga. Reports highlighted the situation in  Hagonoy where residents had not yet completely recovered from Typhoon Egay’s earlier onslaught in late July, with Bulacan still in “state of calamity.” Print on September 1 and 2 reported in regional news sections the “state of calamity” declared for Oton in Iloilo and Bacolod City in Negros Occidental.

Media did report on conditions that worsened the effect of torrential rain. In Metro Manila, the Sunog Apog pumping station in Tondo was not working as it was under repair, as Ramon Arriola of the Flood Management Cluster of the Department of Public Works and Highways pointed to garbage hampering smooth operations (“Malalaki ang solid waste kaya imbes na tubig ang binobomba, mga basura na.”) In Hagonoy, locals blamed the high tide for exacerbating the impact of continuous rain. Reports did not go into why high tides are higher now.

So far, media have not reported any coordinated government response to the impact of unusually heavy rains for such an extended period. Pagasa had discussed extreme weather in relation to El Niño. Reports have not referred to the weather bureacracy to clarify any connection between El Niño and the current phenomenon of torrential rains. Nor have journalists turned to other sources for guidance to check whether neighboring countries are experiencing the same weather patterns.

Whatever these rains indicate, intensifying climate events signify the need for long-term plans, not just for a particular city or province but for other regions, especially those that are landlocked and rely on single outlets for floodwater. News coverage has yet to go beyond surface reporting and regularly integrate weather analysis in media accounts. Climate change issues aside, there are huge economic costs involved, which should be discussed in current budget hearings.

The rains may not be stopping soon. Government is not expected to influence weather. But the management of its devastating impact on people’s lives calls for more proactive action than has been seen so far. And media can keep this issue alive even in good weather.

Rice price cap

To arrest the rising prices of rice, President Marcos issued an executive order (EO) on September 1 mandating price caps of PHP 41 pesos for regular milled rice and PHP 45 pesos for well-milled rice. The order recognized a stable supply for the grain, but cited hoarding, international conflict and export bans as the causes of the skyrocketing prices. Interestingly, Agriculture undersecretaries were talking about rice shortage in recent budget hearings.

In reporting the order, print and broadcast media including Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and TV Patrol did pick up criticism from farmers’ groups and retailers, who all complained that the low price would force them to sell their inventory at a loss, having bought supplies at higher prices. Meanwhile, farmers expressed fears for more loss of income. Some economists and analysts suggested cutting import tariffs on rice instead. The National Economic and Development Authority backed the EO, saying it is only a temporary measure.

As concurrent agriculture secretary, Marcos had ordered concerned agencies to exhaust all legal tools in order to lower rice prices. The Bureau of Customs have been conducting surprise inspections in Bulacan warehouses recently, finding allegedly smuggled rice in the process. House Speaker and presidential cousin Martin Romualdez and other lawmakers joined an inspection this week, but media did not ask about their purpose and what in aid of legislation they were expected to find.

The seemingly disjointed response to the rice crisis begs the question: Is Marcos knowledgeable enough to be in charge of the problem, as President or as Secretary of Agriculture?

More news from the media:

  • The Bureau of Treasury released on August 29 the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Maharlika Investment Fund. The IRR takes effect on September 12. Unlike past news coverage that featured sources critical of the controversial law, there was no immediate scrutiny of the IRR in news accounts.
  • On September 1, President Marcos launched the National Peace Consciousness Month in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. Affirming the 2022 joint resolution of the Provincial Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict and the Provincial Peace and Order Council, Marcos announced that the province of Palawan is now insurgency-free. Newsrooms would do well to verify this announcement; if the Palawan approach did work, it should be presented in a broader national discussion.
  • The Office of the Vice President (OVP) appears to have dodged questioning of its confidential funds as lawmakers swiftly moved to end the budget hearing for Sara Duterte’s office. But The Philippine Star reported on its September 1 front page another point of controversy: Per the 2022 annual audit report of the Commission on Audit, Duterte had 433 security personnel last year, which amounts to 63 percent of the OVP’s total manpower. Other online reports also carried the COA finding, noting as well that in her last full term, former Vice President Leni Robredo only had 78 detailed military personnel. The OVP on September 3 issued a statement in defense, saying the comparison “lacked basis” as the deployment of security personnel depends on military and police assessment. But the statement did not explain what assessment made the increase necessary. The OVP added that the COA did not have any “adverse” finding in its report.