Rice producing countries, hoping to cash in on the spikes in prices, are moving towards forming an organization of rice producing countries, similar to that of OPEC. But apparently, they have not yet cashed in on the rice price spikes as they are grappling to stabilize rice prices in their respective countries.
Half of the problem is a result of government policies
While the price spikes in oil and rice are brought about by speculation in the global market, the programs and policies, or the lack of it, of the Arroyo government is making life worse for the Filipino people.
Its policy of liberalizing trade, including agricultural products, and its refusal to subsidize and support domestic agricultural production, has resulted in the country retrogressing from a net exporter to being the biggest importer of rice. This made the country vulnerable to speculative attacks in the international market. The Philippines, in its frantic efforts to import and stockpile rice, is even being blamed for the current increases in rice prices.
The Arroyo government’s policy of deregulation, which includes the deregulation of the oil and rice industries, enables manufacturers and traders of basic commodities, as well as public utilities, to increase prices without prior justification. The admonition of Energy Sec. Angelo Reyes for oil companies to explain the P1 per liter increase in oil last May 3 is after the fact and useless. It should have been done prior to the increases.
The Arroyo government’s policy of privatization leaves the people at the mercy of local and foreign corporations. Worse, its policy of “balancing” the budget to be able to show foreign creditors and investors that it could guarantee payment of its debts and repatriation of capital and profits of foreign corporations increases the tax burden of the people while depriving them of essential government services and support.
The Arroyo government can do a lot to mitigate the sufferings and protect the Filipino people from the profiteering designs of foreign monopoly corporations and financial speculators. It could subsidize food production and distribution but it is against the government’s policy of liberalization.
It could control the prices of basic commodities, services, and utilities but it is against the government’s policy of deregulation. It could ensure that essential services and support are provided to the needy but it is against the government’s policy of privatization. And it could remove the RVAT on oil but it would not sit well with the government’s foreign creditors and investors.
Because of these the Arroyo government’s responses are too late and too little. It finally decided to support agricultural production but the subsidies are too small, could benefit only a few, and was done only when the rice crisis is in full effect. It is subsidizing NFA rice but it is reaching only a few and its panic importations are helping speculators more than the Filipino people. The Arroyo government is trying to put up a show of warning oil companies but its attempts were practically ignored. It is now running after Meralco to give the semblance of exposing anomalies in the pricing policies of corporations but it is merely zeroing on those perceived to be supporting opposition to its rule; not unlike what it did to local government officials who are part of the opposition. And it flatly refuses to remove the RVAT on oil to ease prices.
Is the Arroyo government doing enough to mitigate the sufferings and protect the Filipino people? No, and worse, it is taking the wrong side: the side of big financial speculators, foreign monopoly corporations and their local partners. (Bulatlat.com)