The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas criticized the National Food Authority for increasing rice prices at a time when the poor could hardly cope with the crisis. The KMP said that the NFA’s move to limit access to the P18.25 per kilo rice is nothing more than a price hike.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
Volume VIII, Number 32, September 14-20, 2008
Various groups have opposed the Arroyo government’s limited distribution of the P18.25 ($0.389 at an exchange rate of $1=P46.86) per kilogram of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).
In a statement posted at its website, the NFA said that starting this month, they would sell the P18.25 per kilogram of rice only at Tindahan Natin (TN) outlets, and available only to those with Family Access Cards (FAC).
The rice allocation of the TN outlets would be based on the number of FAC beneficiaries in the area computed at a two-kilogram allotment per family per day.
Each TN outlet may identify 250 FAC beneficiaries, said the NFA. With 1,426 outlets in Metro Manila, the NFA said the scheme would serve 356, 500 families.
NFA Administrator Jessup P. Navarro said that with this move, the low-income group and underprivileged sector ‘gets the assurance of optimizing the benefits from the rice subsidies and other hunger mitigating programs of the government.’
“We can specifically focus our distribution efforts of the affordable rice to families who really need assistance from the government,” he added.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP-Philippine Peasant Movement) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan-New Patriotic Alliance) deemed otherwise.
Bayan said such move would marginalize millions of families who are also poor.
The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) distributed FACs to approximately 280,000 families.
Arnold Padilla, Bayan public information officer asked, “How about those whose monthly income is less than P10,000 ($213.40) , which according to the government itself is the current amount needed in Metro Manila to be considered not poor?” Padilla asked.
Willy Marbella, KMP deputy secretary general said, “It is very obvious that the government doesn’t treat the minimum wage earner as poor, those earning P382 ($8.15) a day.” He said that a P5, 000 ($106.70) monthly income, which is the maximum income for a family to avail of the FAC, is equivalent to only P208 ($4.438) per day.
Padilla added that these poor families would be forced to purchase the P25 ($0.53) per kilo rice, which is also subsidized by the NFA but is still hardly affordable to the poor.
The NFA sells three kinds of rice: NFA rice for P18.25 ($0.389) a kilo, NFA commercial rice for P25 ($0.53) a kilo, and premium NFA rice for P30 ($0.64) a kilo. Only the NFA commercial and premium rice can now be sold in public markets.
The KMP considered the move as a price hike, from P18.25 ($0.389) per kg to P25 ($0.53) per kg, plain and simple.
Cutting down on consumption
Dionisio Bindoy, a driver residing at Bgy 178 in Camarin, Caloocan said he has been forced to buy rice at P30 ($0.64) per kilo. He said that even the P25 ($0.53) NFA rice is not of good quality.
Earning only P6,000 ($128) per month, Dionisio said that they only eat three kilos of rice per week. He lives with his wife and two daughters. Sometimes, they would eat kamote (sweet potato) as substitute to rice. He planted kamote in their backyard.
Meanwhile, Jun Cera buys the P25 ($0.53) NFA rice. He tried to get a family access card but the DSWD said they had reached their limit. “Maraming di nabigyan. Ang nabigyan pa nga, iyong ibang may kakayanang bumili ng bigas, mga kamag-anak ng DSWD at ng mga taga-barangay.” (Many have not been given cards. Some of the beneficiaries have the capacity to buy rice, they are relatives of DSWD personnel and of barangay officials.)
He and his wife work as vendors, earning P300 ($6.40) per day. They live in Litex, Commonwealth. All of their three children are in grade school.
“Dati, dalawang kilo ng bigas isang araw. Ngayon, isa’t kalahati na lang,” (We used to consume two kilos of rice per day. These days, we only eat one and a half kilo) said Cera.
He said they just eat rice cakes for breakfast. They also have to reduce the quantity of their viand.
Cera said that these are difficult times. His children walk their way to school to save money. He said they walk for more than one kilometer every day. They also do not have any allowance or food when going to school.
“The government is really pushing through its murderous design of starving the Filipino people,” said Marbella.
The KMP also criticized the continued importation of rice.
Fines Cosico, NFA grains operations officer, said rice importation is prescribed by the agreements under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
According to the Performance of Philippine Agriculture (January to June 2008) by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, palay (rice grain) production was up by 5.84 percent.
Estimated stock inventory of the NFA as of July 2008 shows that 929,337 metric tons (MT) of rice are imported as against 1,255 MT of locally-produced rice and 28,304 MT of palay.
Based on the NFA’s 2008 Rice/Palay National Supply and Demand Analysis, the NFA would import 971, 145 MT of rice from July to December.
Cosico said that the NFA has started buying clean and dry palay at P17 ($0.36) per kilo. Farmers who sell at least 50 kilograms are given P1,800 ($38.41) as subsidy for fertilizer. But Cosico admitted the subsidy is not sustainable.
The KMP believes that the NFA should procure more locally-produced palay instead of importing more rice.
Bayan reiterated its demand to impose price controls on rice, dismantle the rice cartel, and strengthen the role of the NFA in the whole rice sector to ensure that affordable rice is available to the people especially the poor.
The group also emphasized that the long-term solution to the rice crisis is the reversal of globalization policies on agriculture and the implementation of a genuine agrarian reform program that would allow Filipino farmers to produce food for domestic requirements well as other needs of the economy. (Bulatlat.com)