The Diskwento Caravan, according to DTI’s website “[s]tarted in 2008, … [as] a flagship project of DTI that aims to provide non-wage benefits for wage earners and employees to ease the consumers’ burden of rising prices of basic necessities and prime commodities.”
As early as November 14, 2013, or 6 days after Yolanda left thousands dead and injured and thousands more homeless, jobless, hungry, in desperate need of medical help, in search of loved ones, the government began the roll out of its Diskwento Caravans in Ormoc, Leyte. Thus, within 6 days from the worst typhoon the country and the biggest disaster area the country had ever seen, the government already saw consumers with demands and not victims in need.
Partnering with big manufacturers and distributers instead of serving calamity victims
Philstar reports that the goods sold during the Diskwento Caravan are “bottled water, canned goods, coffee, milk, noodles, rice, biscuits and bread. The participating companies are Gardenia Bakeries Philippines Inc., Nutri-Asia, Nestle Philippines, Century Canning Corp. and San Miguel Pure Foods Co. Inc. For the succeeding caravans, the DTI said other items will be added to the product offerings such as detergent, flashlights, batteries, candles, rice, eggs and dressed chicken.”
In the past, the roll out of Diskwento Caravans has been described as a “fair”, i.e., a venue to sell and promote products. In connection with one such event in July 2013, the DTI stated that “[m]anufacturer participants are no longer charged of overhead but given free venue, electricity, security and media promotion, among others”.
All these make us wonder who the Diskwento Caravan primarily serves – the manufacturer or the consumer? And why proceed with this fair when Typhoon victims, in their desperation and need to survive, have resorted to looting and eating spoiled rice?
In defense of Diskwento Caravans, DTI Secretary Gregory L. Domingo, on November 26, 2013, said that “most [manufacturers and distributors] do not make money on their Diskwento Caravan Activities”.
Since not only are manufacturers and distributors benefitting from the free “media promotion” but some are also profiting from the sale of their goods to the victims, it has become less believable that the Diskwento Caravans are primarily to help calamity victims.
Selling necessities to calamity victims
In the same November 26, 2013 statement, Secretary Domingo continues: “In calamity areas, the value of Diskwento Caravans is in providing the availability of non-relief item at a discounted price. In the last 10 days in Samar/Leyte, we have provided many truckloads of bread, canned milk, assorted other canned goods, other types of beverage, sanitary napkins/panty liners and many other products that are otherwise unavailable in the area. DTI’s 2nd Diskwento Caravan in Tacloban tomorrow will also include construction materials such as GI sheets, nails, etc. and products such as batteries, flashlights and other necessities.”
The above statement implies that “bread, canned milk, assorted other canned goods, other types of beverage, sanitary napkins/panty liners and many other products that are otherwise unavailable in the area” are non-relief items. Are rice, water, sardines and corned beef the only relief goods? So when local and foreign donations include “bread, canned milk, assorted other canned goods, other types of beverage, sanitary napkins/panty liners”, are these items taken out because they are not “relief goods”?
Secretary Domingo also mentioned selling “other necessities” to typhoon victims. What “necessities” are not considered “relief goods”? Aren’t those terms synonymous with each other?
Neglecting local livelihood while promoting big manufacturers and distributers
Secretary Domingo then attempts to elicit empathy by stating: “DTI has a very meager budget and gets zero donations. The Diskwento Caravans especially in areas in Leyte/Samar have been conducted at great sacrifice by our employees around the region and by the employees of our partner companies as they effectively take 30 hour shifts from the time they leave Cebu port on a RORO to Leyte/Samar to the time they get back to Cebu after holding the Diskwento Caravan without the benefit of a hotel room or assured toilet facilities.”
The DTI’s activities on behalf of manufacturers and distributors are not the selfless activities they are trying to make it seem. The more the goods sell, the more media promotion and goodwill these manufacturers and distributors will earn and the more favorable the Department of Trade and Industry will be in the eyes of these manufacturers and distributors.
In connection with this defense of Diskwento Caravans, Presidential Communication Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma, on November 27, 2013, said that “the discount caravan aims to restart and energize commercial activities in calamity areas where public markets and retail stores were destroyed.”
The only way we can think that Diskwento Caravans can help calamity areas “restart and energize commercial activities” is if the Diskwento Caravan goods are sold to stores which will in turn sell them to consumers. How then does this help victims who, while still desperate for relief, now have to pay for goods with the local store’s mark-up?
If the DTI really wanted to “restart and energize commercial activities in calamity areas” then they should have given start-up funds to support local livelihood. The predominant economic activities in the hardest hit areas, Leyte and Samar, are fishing and agriculture. It doesn’t take a lot of money to “restart and energize” these commercial activities. And, how does selling “bread, canned milk, assorted other canned goods, other types of beverage, sanitary napkins/panty liners and many other products that are otherwise unavailable in the area” to fisherman and farmers “restart and energize” the latter’s commercial activities?
Since no one person seems to be in charge of relief operations, it would be difficult to stop the Diskwento Caravans. Each government arm seems to be doing only what it knows best which may not necessarily be the best for the calamity victims. But good intentions are not enough at a time like this. So, let us just do as much we can to reach out to as many victims as we can. We all know by now we can do so much better than our government.