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Price control in the time of the Spaniards

Rice traders were recently warned by the agriculture secretary not to hoard their stock for the purpose of causing an artificial shortage and spiking prices. We have heard that before, and it seems that if you care to trace the history of price controls on basic goods, you’d find that it goes back to the 16th century, when the Spanish colonial government had to supply Intramuros with food and control prices for the public good. In Gregorio Zaide’s 12-volume “Documentary Sources of Philippine History” are a number of ordinances issued by the Royal Audiencia in 1598, regulating the production, sale and distribution of basic goods.

When the prices for basic staples in Spanish Manila started to peak and cause misery, the Audiencia stepped in and found out that many Chinese and natives had taken over the barter and trading of rice, wine, fowl, swine, cows, buffalos, game, eggs, geese, kids, coconuts, bananas, pullets, capons, fish, olive-oil, vinegar etc. They had become hucksters and retailers of these goods in the walled city called Intramuros.

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So the government decreed that no one—Spanish, Chinese or Filipino—should trade in these staples. Producers of the controlled staples were ordered to bring these to the public square in Intramuros by land or through the river and sell these directly to the consumers and not to hucksters. Any excess could be sold outside the city.

It is significant that the penalties meted out to offenders differed according to race. For the first offense, a Spaniard could be imprisoned for 20 days; for the second offense he was banished from the city for six months. The Chinese or natives, on the other hand, were punished with 100 lashes for the first offense, and two years of service—without pay—in either the government galley, forge or powerhouse for the second.

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One ordinance concerned the breeding of fowl so that artificial shortages could be avoided, while another ordinance regulated food prices. Regarding meat, 10 native hunters would be contracted to bring buffalos to the city slaughterhouse. The buffalos would be sold later to the public in meat form. At least one buffalo had to be brought in daily. All natives and the Chinese gardeners in the city were to raise fowl and swine. If they were remiss in this duty they faced a fine of four reals.

Pork was brought to a counter in the public square and sold by weight at a fixed price. It was illegal to sell or even offer a dead pig or any part of it elsewhere. Such contrabands were confiscated and the seller given 29 lashes as punishment. For fowl, prices were set as follows: a Sangley capon sold for three and a half reals; a laying Sangley-hen, two and a half reals; a Moro hen, two reals; a pullet, one and a half reals; a male chicken, one real.

I have yet to find out what the difference between a Sangley hen and Moro hen is.

Fowl sold above the fixed prices was confiscated and divided into three parts for equal distribution among the hospitals in Intramuros, the informer who squealed on the seller, and the judge administering the law.

Fixed prices were also set for the sale of fish.

Chicken, eggs and rice were sourced from outside the city—Tondo, Pampanga, Bulacan, Laguna, Mindoro and Balayan—following a schedule: Tondo, in January, February and March; Pampanga in April, May and June; Bulacan in July and August; Laguna in September and October; and Mindoro and Balayan, in November and December. From this schedule, one can see which provinces had the most produce because the weekly order was for 300 laying hens (a third or fourth part being pullets), 2,000 eggs, and a number of swine as determined for a given time.

During the 40 days of Lent, when abstinence from meat was imposed, fowl and hog were replaced by eggs.

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The feeding of Manila as far back as the 16th century took on a political rather than subsistence value, and the success or failure of governments, then as now, is determined by the people depending on the price and availability of basic commodities. Not much has changed in the order of things in the last 400 years.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: colonial, History, Intramuros, opinion, Spaniard, Spanish
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