Summer of discontent

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By Jun Ledesma

Sunbursts

Thursday, January 16, 2014


A FISH is caught by its mouth. Similarly some clumsy and lying bureaucrats in the Department of Agriculture and the National Food Authority are caught trying to fool us into believing that we have sufficient buffer rice stock to last us for 80 days. They said that this stock is found in the households, in the market stalls and in the granaries of the government… meaning NFA.

If we are to believe the stories churned by the Department of Agriculture and Malacañang, it is as if our rice farmers through the help of the DA, are harvesting enough and that they are confident that the Philippines will soon start exporting rice. But the present controversy on flagrant and large-scale rice smuggling tells us that this is farthest from the truth. Now we know that the National Food Authority in fact have surreptitiously issued rice import allocations and that many faceless David Tans are virtually allowed to smuggle in large volumes of rice.

This countervailing claims and issues both coming from the Department of Agriculture tell us that someone is trying to pull the leg of President Aquino and the entire nation into believing our farmers are now productive. It looks like, for failing to realize its brave prediction for the country under the Aquino administration to export rice, the DA is doing the illicit means of abetting rice smuggling to flood the market. Had it not been caught by its mouth it is likely that, before we know it, the government will re-export the volume of smuggled rice to claim success of its program of rice sufficiency!

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This is a classic case of tomfoolery and pity the President for having been cajoled to believe that our often-flooded rice fields had yielded so much because of DA Sec. Proceso Alcala’s rice productivity program.

I didn’t know that productivity in the language of the DA includes illegal procurement of rice from out neighboring countries. In no other times have the farmers suffered so much than in this last decade. Because of climate change floods inundated their farms, aridity seared their fields during dry season and, the saddest part of it all, the government is simply at a loss on how to balance what viable price should the traders buy the unmilled rice (palay) from farmers and at what price should the rice be sold to consumers. Under the watch of Secretary Alcala the NFA lost its vital role of managing that price balance. The bodegas of the NFA are filled to the rafters with imported rice. That is the easy way to insure buffer stock. But that is also the dose that kills the farmers.

During the Marcos era, when price would plummet during harvest season the National Grains Authority (the precursor of NFA) will inject funds to the agency to buy palay. The Chinese cartel of palay buyers were forced to increase their buying price. The government war against the cartel became intense, NGA put up silos so that it will be able to buy their fresh harvests and then dry them up to remove the moisture content of the palay. NGA can stock up palay for a longer period and mill this only during off harvest season. Rice traders and retailers would go to the NGA. The agency then recovers the money used in buying palay from farmers at a support price.

These days the DA and the NFA lost their relevance to our farmers. With the inclement weather we have these days the DA should invest more on silos and the NFA should increase its buying activities from farmers and not focus on import allocations for any Tom-Dick-and Harry…errr…Tan-So-and-Lim. Some crooked NGA officials were into monkey business then but they are pygmies compared to the syndicates these days that apparently made up of crooks in the high totem pole of government bureaucracy and their civilian counterparts.

Gone are the days when farmers get direct assistance from the DA and not through non-government organizations like those of Janet Napoles and her conduits of thick-hide senators, congressmen and presidential subalterns. It is alarming.

Of what good is the seven percent economic growth if it is enjoyed by less than five percent of the estimated 100-million Filipinos? It looks rosy in the eye of Malacañang but the disparity in the distribution of wealth is actually a potential powder keg. Revolution is not stirred by the elite. It is fanned by discontent of the peasants and where the middle class is also threatened because of the meteoric rise of cost of power and the unbridled corruption in high places the prospects of civil unrest is not remote.

We would rather find a few rice smugglers dead than see the red rising in the summer of our discontent.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 17, 2014.

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