COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
The Lenten season indeed gave a time for one to reflect, on what to do next to divert the people’s attention on the Senate investigation on the NBN-ZTE scandal and the looming political crisis. After Easter Sunday celebration, the Christianized Filipinos who were assured of a Risen Christ were suddenly met with a sudden rice crisis, probably real or just simply dramatized.
I don’t know who at first sounded the alarm or where it came from but the news of a rice shortage was on the airwaves right after Lent that rice traders started to speculate, hoard, and increase the price of commercial rice. And at an instant, the availability of the National Food Authority (NFA) rice which is the common tao’s staple fell short of its supply in the market.
Naturally, the situation brought commotion and partial confusion among the people since if you ask the retailers, they’d say there is rice in the market but the price is increasing at a daily rate. However, news on the airwaves would report daily of people lining up to buy NFA rice at a rationed amount and even requiring an ID or a cedula. Then came the Agriculture Secretary and Malacañang assuring the public that there’s enough rice, yet declaring at the same breath that the country will import more rice.
What makes the situation appears to be suspicious is GMA’s impulse reactions. At first, she went on an expedition of inspecting warehouses at which Joel Rocamora observed as making pogi points, simply because it is not necessary for the President to be doing so. Then she announced that she’ll release a vast amount of 41B pesos for agriculture. Too speedy a crisis and too speedy the crisis management that I hope won’t go to waste. And as of this writing, GMA would then admonish her detractors to stop their political posturing and attend to food security.
Real, imagined, or dramatized a rice crisis; this phenomenon looks like global in nature. But the global character of this rice shortage is a result of globalization itself, where lending institutions like the IMF-WB are disrupting local economies and imposing their faith in “comparative advantage” thus preventing each country from being self-sufficient and at the mercy of the world market. A country has to specialize in the production of this, and another in that and so on, while maintaining free trade. The chain reaction for any disaster is very fast and also global.
But for an agricultural country like the Philippines with vast arable land, rice insufficiency is a crime. Land conversion into the production of cash crops, real estate development, and the building of recreational facilities is like trying to become First World with an empty stomach. Thailand with its 60M people has 9M hectares of land allotted to rice production of which 7.5M hectares are irrigated. While the Philippines with an almost 90M people have only 3M hectares of land planted to rice.
There really is something wrong with the government’s agricultural policy in this country. And before we deal with famine, hunger, or heightened economic and political crisis we better consider of a survival strategy, not for GMA to remain in power but for our own food security.