AS was reported on Monday, Chinese authorities recently destroyed 35 metric tons of bananas shipped there from the Philippines, for reasons that are not entirely clear but are presumably due to the shipment not passing a phytosanitary inspection.
That is extremely bad news for the producers, brokers, and customers of that particular shipment, which was the equivalent of about two-and-a-half 20-foot shipping containers. Banana prices averaged about P50,000 per ton in February, according to the World Bank, meaning that the lost value of the shipment could be as high as P1.75 million.
As Palace Spokesman Sonny Coloma pointed out on Sunday, in the bigger scheme of things, that amount is not critical, and will not even make a dent in the volume or value of Philippine-China trade. While that may be true, on a smaller scale the destroyed shipment probably also represents the fruit of a season’s labor for someone, and should not be simply shrugged off.
Once again, Coloma – who after all is only speaking for his boss, President BS Aquino 3rd – has revealed the shocking insensitivity and evident lack of awareness that pervades the halls of power in the second Aquino era.
It is certainly correct to say that one destroyed shipment of agricultural products does not a trade crisis make, but what the Administration failed to grasp before allowing words on the subject to fall out of Coloma’s mouth is the only reason anyone is even interested in a rejected shipment of bananas in the first place, the only reason Coloma found himself fielding media questions about it on Easter Sunday is because China was the one doing the rejecting.
Whatever the reality, even if the Chinese authorities acted with complete propriety and followed regulations to the letter – and we are certainly not suggesting they acted improperly in any way – the ongoing dispute with China, aggravated to no small degree by Aquino’s own saber-rattling, instantly raises skepticism among the public. Shrugging off the incident, even though that is probably a practical response, is not a very reassuring one.
The Aquino Administration should also be reminded that our products represent the Philippines abroad as much as our people do. A rejection of a shipment of one of our few successful agricultural export products should not happen, whether in China or elsewhere. The government, through the Department of Agriculture, should take this ‘minor’ incident more seriously: Get a full explanation of their actions from the Chinese authorities, and ascertain if procedures were properly followed. And on the Philippine side, the government should make sure our exporters are fully cognizant and compliant with destination countries’ rules and regulations, to prevent a repeat of the unfortunate situation.
Our agriculture sector, and our economy at large need demonstrations that our government is following its mandate to support our producers. Dismissing the matter as inconsequential is supporting no one.