Rice Queues to test Pinoy discipline
The healthy Filipino queuer in NFA rice queues can breathe a deep sigh of relief for such not so small blessings, namely the mulled increase (reckless ploy) of NFA subsidized price will not push through, and the sleazy NFA existence will be prolonged. Nevertheless, as one paper editorial wails, ‘Their suspicion is Gloria is fanning fears of a crisis so people could be distracted from corruption scandals hounding her administration.’ Hardly anyone can deny that this administration is hopping from crisis to crisis -- election scam, fertilizer scam, Broadband scam, soaring fuel prices, skyhigh medicine costs, pervasive corruption in the bureaucracy and military, foreign encroachment on our presumptive territorial claims under UNCLOS. The hardcore Palace propaganda battalion is so close to being overwhelmed we may soon find they too are tired of recycling their tired trite tripe. Cleanup of the airwaves would help mitigate air pollution.
For how long can the government keep the price of rice at its present level? The NFA buys unmilled rice at P17 a kilogram that translates to a selling price of P34 a kilo after milling, meaning that the NFA loses P15.75 for every kilo it sells at P18.25. The subsidy of imported rice is about P10 per kilo based on a purchase price of $700 per ton. Under its current level of buying and selling, it is estimated that the NFA would lose close to P50 billion a year. Where will PGMA get that kind of money without sacrificing her infrastructure construction program and her goal of balancing the budget in 2010?
The public fear of a rice shortage is forcing officialdom’s frenzied moves of damage control to calm public anxiety. The hasty knee-jerk attempts are sometimes silly, an example being the patronizing proposal of PGMA to craft a Consumers Rights Bill which would make redundant the existing Consumers Act of 1992 (Republic Act No. 7394).
NBI chief Mantaring, tasked by PGMA and DOJ to investigate instances of rice hoarding and price gouging, exceeded his mandate by including smuggling in his probe. For his exuberance, he was taken to task by the President for straying into smuggler-sniffing. The scolding raises suspicions of a cover up about an exhumation of the Jose Pidal – smuggler link exposé of Senator Lacson.
The NFA was intended to help moderate prices and provide support to farmers by guaranteeing a good price for their produce. It has not succeeded in doing either of these things. And now when world food prices, including that of rice, are shooting up and reaching record highs, the NFA has maintained its selling price at P18.25 a kilo. This has not held back traders from pricing commercial rice at more than P30 a kilo, with some fancy varieties going for as much as P60. Neither is it going to be of much help in encouraging farmers to plant more by making them earn more since traders are the ones who are making a killing in the tight supply situation that we have now.
The NFA is a small player in the rice and corn business, and will remain so unless the government infuses it with enormous sums of money that will allow it to control the market, amounts the government cannot afford. The NFA will have to be made history, and its demise labeled with an epitaph: an admonition that boondoggles are bad for public health. The government must also move quickly to achieve rice self-sufficiency.
The growing queues of the urban poor seeking their daily ration of rice, if not a crisis situation now might soon be if it spins out of control, becomes a rice crisis which turns into a full blown food emergency triggered by panic buying. Those with little or no money, a third of the population, will convert the panic into food riots and chaos will reign. Propaganda will be worse than useless, as this item is not just tasteless but cruel under such circumstances.