The Arroyo government is again playing with words, as if it would make the rice crisis (which has now reached the level of a food crisis) go away. It claims there is no rice crisis but admits to a rice price crisis. There may be no real shortage yet but sharp increases in the price of rice make it inaccessible to the poor and lower segments of the middle class. This is the face of the crisis today.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Vol. VIII, No. 10, April 20-26, 2008
The Arroyo government is again playing with words, as if it would make the rice crisis (which has now reached the level of a food crisis) go away. Every time the topic of the current rice crisis is being discussed Agriculture Sec. Arturo Yap and the spokespersons of Malacanang are quick to “clarify” that there is no rice crisis but a rice price crisis. They also keep on harping about the adequate supply of rice in the country, citing that we have more than enough to last us up to the first quarter of next year. Malacanang also said that the Philippines is in the best position to cope with the rice price crisis and that the country would not experience food riots, as what happened in Haiti and other underdeveloped countries, because of adequate supply. The Arroyo government is blaming rice traders and hoarders for the rice price increases.
Rice traders, on the other hand, are blaming the government for causing panic among consumers, which, they said, is the reason for the rice price increases.
Gauging by the continuously increasing lines for NFA rice, there really is a rice crisis. It may be quite different from what the country experienced in the 1970s but it is a crisis nonetheless. In the 1970s there was a shortage and we had to mix corn with rice. The Marcos dictatorship launched a program called Masagana 99, introducing high yielding varieties of rice, to prevent the recurrence of the shortage.
Currently, there is no real shortage yet but sharp increases in the price of rice make it inaccessible to the poor and lower segments of the middle class. Unaffordable rice (and basic foods) is the face of the crisis today. In fact, traders and retailers of rice are even complaining that they could not sell their rice except at a very low profit margin or sometimes even at cost.
Hunger amid a situation of adequate supply is the cruel paradox of the day. It is, perhaps, what caused the food riots and looting in other countries. It is easier for people to tighten their belts, literally and figuratively, if they see that there really is a shortage. But to see that rice and other foods are available in the market and yet people go hungry because they could not afford it makes people more desperate and angry,
Who is to blame?
The price spikes in rice and other foods are happening globally, especially after the decision of major rice exporting countries such as Vietnam and Thailand to limit their exports for fear of a global rice supply shortage due to the shifts in agricultural production in a lot of countries from producing food i.e. rice and wheat to biofuel. Nevertheless the government is still responsible for making the Filipino people vulnerable to demand and supply shocks, as well as the callous machinations of speculators, in the international market.
First, its definition of and policy with regards food security is inherently flawed. It narrowly defines food security in terms of supply. Thus, according to the 2006 primer of the Philippine Rice Research Institute, “a nation could be secure although households particularly those with low income have nothing to eat.” No wonder the Arroyo government does not see the current rice crisis that is already staring it in the face.
Second, the government does not see the need to improve and increase rice production in the country- until the rice crisis imploded – as it deemed the international market as more “stable”. Even when the rice crisis was already intensifying Pres. Arroyo still declared that there is no problem where the country gets its supply of rice for as long as it is able to get it. This is exactly the policy that made the country vulnerable to price spikes in the international market.
Third, with the government’s economic orientation and programs, it is not surprising that the rice and food crisis would implode sooner or later. Its emphasis on exports rewards the shift of agricultural production from food to cash crops. Added to this, its thrust of enticing foreign companies and investors to set-up subsidiaries in the country and to invest in real estate development caused the massive conversion of land from agricultural to other uses. Complementing this are the numerous loopholes in the government’s agrarian reform program causing its failure. The government’s thrusts and the failure of the agrarian reform program facilitate the process of land use conversion and make the reconcentration of land – in the form of taking back Certificates of Land Ownership Agreements and reclassifying land previously awarded to farmers – profitable.
Fourth, the Arroyo government’s refusal to implement any substantial policy that would mitigate the effects of the crisis such as price controls and the removal of the 12 percent Expanded Value Added Tax on basic commodities show its total disregard for the people’s welfare.
It may be true that the Filipino people are not wont to resort to food riots and lootings. But the Arroyo government could not take comfort in that. The crisis is real and it concerns a gut issue: food. The only factor that prevents the Filipino people from resorting to random, desperate acts of anger and forcibly taking what they need is that we are experienced in collective action that has a clear goal: the removal of anti-people, corrupt presidents who worsen the people’s misery and sufferings. And that should serve as a warning to the Arroyo government. (Bulatlat.com)