The media is currently teaming with news stories that carry contrasting opinions and explanations from government officials and others concerned on whether or not the country is on the brink of a catastrophic rice shortage.
Some senators have raised the alarm bells lately and urged the President to come clean and admit that there really is a looming crisis. The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has even disclosed two government memos that say we actually are in trouble.
Malacanang and the Agriculture Department however, are standing pat. There is no crisis, and those crying famine are just “alarmists,” they said.
But still, the people deserve to know the truth. Nahihilo na ang tao! Instead of issuing vague and defensive statements, Malacanang should answer all the contentions already raised, point per point.
If there really is no looming crisis in the country’s staple food, why do we have to import more than 2 million metric tons of rice from Vietnam? And, why the frantic call to conserve rice? Agriculture Sec. Arthur Yap even went to the point of asking restaurants to serve rice in half portions. And if indeed there is enough supply, why the hell rice prices are going up?
These unanswered questions justify the people’s doubts on the real state of our nation’s staple food supply.
But are we really facing a rice crisis?
Come to think of it, do we really have to ask if we are indeed facing famine because of rice shortage? Of course we are. And this is because of the past and the present regime’s all-out liberalization of agriculture, all in the name of neo-liberal globalization.
The fact that we need to import rice from other countries is a sign that we are in a food emergency. Last year alone, we imported 1.87 million tons of rice, according to the Department of Agriculture. And this year, we intend to buy 100,000 tons of rice from the US; 15,000 tons from Thailand under the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve and 2.1 million tons from Vietnam. Last year we imported 1.4 million tons from Vietnam.
This in truth is very sad, considering the fact that the Philippines were once the “go-to” place in the region in terms of rice production. We even consider ourselves an agricultural country! Sad.
Rampant land conversion too, has made the country’s rice production dwindle. Vast tracts of agricultural lands are now either golf courses, subdivisions, industrial parks and plantations that are intended for export.
Corruption also contributed. The P728 million fertilizer funds that mysteriously vanished along with then Agriculture Undersecretary Joc-Joc Bolante would certainly be of big help right now.
What to do?
What else, implement genuine land reform. Stop land conversion. End the liberalization of our agriculture.
In the short-term, abolish rice cartels. Rechannel Gloria’s and Congress’ pork to help avert the crisis.
The government seems confident that Vietnam will deliver on its commitment to export more than 2 million metric tons of rice to the Philippines. But now that no less than Vietnam’s Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat is saying that they may “no longer have extra rice for export,” would the government be changing their tune?
Arroyo could capitalize on the rice crisis by extending dole-outs and rice rations to the country’s poor and hungry to bolster her declining popularity. Maybe this is why she’s hesitant to push the panic button.