Queues for NFA Rice Keep Getting Longer

As the price of commercial rice grains increase three times a week, people endure lining up for NFA rice under the scorching sun just to buy their daily supply of the Filipinos’ staple food.

Vol. VIII, No. 10, April 13-19,2008

Tricia, a 23-yrear-old mother of three, lined-up to buy rice at the Pritil Public Market in Tondo, Manila with her one-year old son and three-year-old daughter in tow.

“Nung may pasok ang mga bata sa eskwela, libre lang ang NFA rice. Ngayon kailangan ko pang pumila para makabili,” (When the classes of my children were on-going, we were given NFA rice for free. Now we have to line up to buy.) said Tricia who has a son studying at a public school nearby.

Tricia was referring to the Department of Education’s (DepEd) feeding program for students in public schools. Some of the mothers also lining up to buy rice butted in, saying that their children used to bring home five kilos of rice from school. One of the mothers said the rice ration was given once or twice a month.

The long queue for NFA rice has been going on since March after the price of rice grains went up and the Arroyo government ordered the NFA to sell three kilos of rice per family per day.

The run-away increases in the price of rice made Filipinos panic, thus, the long queue for rice each day.

Pablo Castillo, a dealer of NFA rice in the Pritil Public Market, said he had 40 sacks of NFA rice on Thursday, April 10. When he opened his store around 7 a.m. of Friday, April 11, he had 16 sacks left to sell. At around 7:40 a.m. of the same day, the rice sacks were down to only eight. He had nothing to sell after an hour.

“Natatakot ang mga tao na maubusan ng bigas,” Castillo said, “hindi na mapigil ang tao.” (The people are afraid of running out of rice. They refuse to stop lining up to buy more.)

Castillo, who has been a dealer of NFA for six years through the Bigasang Bayan program of the government, said the NFA only allocates 30 sacks of rice per dealer per week. A sack sells at P862.50 ($20.73 at an exchange rate of $1=P41.595), which is being sold at a retail price of P18.25 ($0.438) per kilo.

Dealers are only allowed to sell from 7 a.m. to 12 noon and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

No shortage

Commercial rice dealers, however, said that there is no rice shortage.

Lito Uy, a commercial rice dealer in Pritil Public Market, said his sales went down after the government started to ration rice in the market. “Bigla nila dinaan sa rasyon. Pinag-panic nila ang mga tao,” (They suddenly started to ration rice. They are making the people panic.) he said.

“Hindi totoo na walang bigas,” (It is not true that there is a shortage.) he continued. He said the commercial rice he sells come from the province of Isabela. But he also complained that the price of commercial rice has jacked-up too much. “Tatlong beses kada linggo magtaas ng presyo ang commercial rice,” (The price of commercial rice increases three times a week.) he said.

The lowest price of commercial rice is the Angelica variety, which sells at P34 ($0.817) per kilo. In March, Uy said this variety was only sold at P28 ($0.67) per kilo. “Napipilitan na kami ibenta sa puhunan ang bigas namin para lang maubos,” (We are forced to sell our rice grains at cost so that it would sell.) he said. The Angelica variety is sold at P1,600 ($38.46) per sack by wholesalers.

Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said, in newspaper interviews, that there is no rice crisis but only a “rice price crisis”. But for mothers like Tricia who only has a P250 ($6) budget a day, she would rather queue under the heat of the sun than buy commercial rice.

After lining-up for the second time that morning, Tricia looked around the market if there were other NFA rice dealers. “Pipila pa sana ako para hindi na ako babalik bukas dito sa palengke,” (I intend to line up for more so I would not have to go back here in the market tomorrow.) she said.

But it seemed most NFA rice dealers had nothing to sell as most of the stores were already closed as early as 9:30 a.m. Carrying her one-year old shild, who has fallen asleep after the long queue, Tricia left for home without buying her family’s viand for the day.

“Bibili na lang ako ng lutong ulam,” (I would just buy cooked food.) she said. Cooked viand sold by neighborhood vendors costs around P25 to P35 ($0.60 to $0.84) an order. “Yung may sabaw na lang ang bibilin ko para magkasya sa amin,” (I would buy viand with sauce so that all of us would be able to eat.) she said.

From the market, Tricia and her two kids walked about a kilometer to reach home, a 2×6 meter house made of wood scraps, along Penalosa St. in Tondo. One of her neighbors then asked if she could have a kilo of rice to cook for lunch. Tricia immediately gave a kilo and said, “bukas pipila na lang uli.” (I would just line up again tomorrow.) (Bulatlat.com)

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