Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Sowing and Reaping

He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.' Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." ' But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'
--Luke 12:17-21

Hidden in the mostly unsensational business pages of last Monday's Philippine Daily Inquirer was former NEDA chief Cielito Habito's insightful commentary on the rice crisis. Dr. Habito makes three important points: 1) the National Food Authority is doing an ineffective job and may actually be distorting market prices; 2) outrageous bukol between NFA's purchase price from the exporter countries' published prices; and 3) rice cartels who loan money to farmers and are able to dictate their prices at harvest time.

What this all means is: 1) our taxes are squandered by the NFA's misguided price stabilization policies; 2) someone is making money from rice importation at our expense; and 3) while we may already have sufficient rice production, prices are being controlled by factors outside operating market forces.

Dr. Habito closes his commentary thus:

So is there in fact a rice shortage? If you believe government data showing rice production growth of 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter and 6 percent for the full-year 2007, then we ought to be swimming in surplus. A retired government statistician sent me calculations based on the government's rice Supply and Use Accounts (SUA), showing that we are in fact self-sufficient in rice even now.

Why, then, are we frantically looking for rice to import? Is it because certain people have millions of reasons for doing so? Is the President being misled into believing that huge rice importations are critical to her political survival? Or worse, is she in on the profitable secret?

Keep all this in mind as the Arroyo administration plays up our "rice crisis" to maximum political gain. Once again, Arroyo's strategists are resurrecting their favorite catchphrase, "emergency powers" to cope with the rice crisis. Even if the emergency powers are not put into effect, they might as well be as the state brings to bear the full weight of the hammer of the law on small fry traders -- all for pogi points and without addressing the real issues.

Remember, too, the hand behind all of this, that the same hand that claims to be heroically staving off crisis is the very same one that squandered P728-million pesos to pay for overpriced fertilizers and ghost deliveries to farmers. Remember for what purpose the diverted funds were used for.

From Committee Report 54 of the 13the Congress (transcribed by Tatlong Tala) :

The Senate Committees on Agriculture and Food, and Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations (Blue Ribbon) have concluded that agricultural funds intended for farmers were diverted by Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-joc" Bolante for the 2004 electoral campaign of President Gloria Arroyo.

Testimonies and corroborative statements of DA officials, 13 farmer groups (see attached list), Commission on Audit officials, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin, and alleged "runners" of Bolante concluded that farmers did not get a single "farm input or implement" in 2004. At least two LGU officials testified that their districts did not receive any fertlizer in spite of records showing that deliveries had been made. Several Congressmen also denied having made requests for fertilizer assistance or receiving fertilizers.

The fertilizer fund appropriation was implemented only in 2004, incidentally during the election season. Funds were released from February to May 2004 or during harvest months when fertilizers are of no use because planting time starts in November. The DA's Rice Program (known as GMA or Ginintuang Masaganang Ani) director Frisco Malabanan testified that fertilizer requirements for 2003 totaled only P28.613 million for the entire Philippines - compared to the P2.806 billion released in 2004.

Remember all this in the reaping.