POSTSCRIPT / September 18, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Man-made rice crisis worse than typhoon

NO ONE in government could have stopped typhoon Ompong’s rampage in Northern Luzon over the weekend, but a proactive administration could have forestalled the crisis scenario of having people lining up for cheap rice.

Malacañang said President Duterte was “satisfied” with the government’s response to Ompong’s devastation that affected 5.7 million people, left at least 30 killed, and destroyed infrastructure, property and crops worth billions of pesos before it exited Saturday.

The toll does not include the scores of miners and family members who were killed in Itogon, Benguet, when the mountainside slid and buried a chapel where they sought shelter during the storm Sunday. Duterte blamed the priest for their fate (see item below).

When nature runs amuck, there is hardly anything that we puny humans can do except to duck and hope that the mitigating measures taken before the calamity work.

On the other hand, the other crisis – that of rice running out – should be within the control of an administration that truly cares and is competent in the first place. Mismanagement of the food supply, especially of rice, potentially affects some 100 million Filipinos.

Ensuring food security in a country with a traditional agricultural base should not be too complicated. In fact, in an unlikely “kanya-kanya” global scenario where every nation will have to feed itself, the Philippines should be able to survive with a surplus to show.

Of the national budget of P3.767 trillion this year, the share of the Department of Agriculture is P53,336,259,000, showing an increase of 17.94 percent over its previous year’s appropriation.

With that outlay, the department, in tandem with related Executive offices and the National Food Authority should be able to ensure rice sufficiency without having to rely on importation from neighbors who ironically studied modern rice farming at Los Baños.

With rice as the main fare together with fish and veggies on the plate of the average Filipino, planners know how many kilos of the grain the country must have in stock at any given time, with the vagaries of supply and demand fluctuations considered.

With basic figures and options available, why should any administration, even one suffering from incompetence and corruption, not be able to plan and assure consumers a predictable supply of affordable rice?

Despite the foul weather and the crooks infesting the bureaucracy, plus the cartel and smugglers factored in, there cannot be any good excuse for the long “pila” for NFA rice.

Instead of taking selfies to promote his senatorial bid, presidential aide Bong Go should show to his boss the video of irate consumers, a few of them unable to hold back tears, waiting in long lines in the market.

(Then President Marcos had somebody taking notes of what he was telling callers/groups complaining about things. To give a proactive impression, he would sometimes say (lie) that he had already acted on what they were griping about. Marcos’ aide would then quickly tell the agency/official concerned what the President said supposedly had been done, and they made sure it was done. Bong Go does something like that?)

 The hungry can’t eat excuses, stats

ANY administration that cannot prevent a man-made disaster of rice shortages in this agricultural country has no business pretending to be on top of the food situation.

President Duterte and Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol claim there is no rice shortage. But where is the cereal when needed at the point of sale? They explain that syndicates and saboteurs are hiding it. What is the mail-fisted administration doing?

Hungry people cannot eat excuses or statistics. Pity housewives who skip breakfast just to be able to line up before the NFA stalls open, but are not even sure they can buy a limited amount before the day’s supply runs out.

Is President Duterte also “satisfied” with his boys’ handling of this self-inflicted disaster? In the first place, do they have a well-thought-out integrated rice self-sufficiency program?

Before Malacañang answers that last question, maybe the President should first clarify the overlapping roles of the stars that have started to flicker in the darkening firmament.

Former MMDA chair Francis Tolentino of a past regime, now carrying the title of presidential political affairs adviser, was the one talking about typhoon preparation and responses when Duterte showed up Sunday in Cagayan after Ompong left the area in shambles.

Is Tolentino supplementing or duplicating the work of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) and taking over from presidential spokesman Harry Roque when the subject is typhoons, disasters and such?

Will the President appoint Army chief Lt. Gen. Rolando Bautista as NFA administrator to replace Jason Aquino who seemed to have been ineffective and after Piñol said cleaning up the NFA mess was not his job?

When Duterte learned during the disaster-related meeting in Tuguegarao of Bautista’s retiring on Oct. 15, he told him: “In the meantime, I cannot place you in the Central Bank, perhaps I can place you in the NFA to rationalize the idiotic… to come up with plans, make it structural.”

That gives us an inkling of how the vetting of key Duterte appointees goes, and why this country seems to be going nowhere.

 Duterte blames priest for Itogon slide

RETRIEVAL operation is ongoing for workers buried in a mining shelter in Itogon, Benguet, during the onslaught of Ompong. Reports Sunday said that 43 bodies had been recovered while some 30 others were missing.

Saturday afternoon, scores of miners and their families sought shelter in an old three-story building in barangay Ucab that had been converted into a chapel. The structure was buried when the water-logged mountainside gave way.

Upon learning of the landslide, President Duterte blamed the priest in Ucab for the tragedy. He said:

Nag-collapse yung church… Alam ninyo, kung pinalitan ninyo ‘yung pari diyan, hindi magbagsak ‘yung simbahan diyan. Bobo ‘yung mga pari.” (The church collapsed. You know, if you had replaced the priest there, the chapel there wouldn’t have collapsed. Priests are stupid.)

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 18, 2018)

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