PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE government move to pull out National Food Authority rice from public markets came under fire from a Catholic Church official and a leader of the opposition.
Fr. Anton Pascual, Caritas Manila executive director, said the move would outrage people who rely solely on the affordable P18.25 NFA rice.
“Pursuing such plan could further fuel public perception there is really a rice shortage,” he warned.
Caritas Manila is the official social action arm of the Archdiocese of Manila.
The transfer of government-subsidized rice in public markets to local governments and churches is slated to take effect next week.
The Department of Agriculture said this is to deter hoarding and diversion of the “cheap” rice.
But the NFA said the move would not be a burden to consumers because subsidized rice would be replaced with high-grade yet affordable rice at the markets.
With the pullout of the NFA rice in traditional retail outlets, government officials are expecting long queues of buyers to decrease, because the sale of rice will be more localized.
However, Pascual is not convinced the plan would be beneficial.
“Hindi ito makakabuti dahil and importante ay ang distribution process. Through this, mas lalong magkakaroon ng false speculations and animosity at magmumukha lalong may krisis. The more it (NFA rice) is made available to the public, the better,” he said.
The priest also said that the Church does not have enough facilities and manpower to fully serve as a retailer of NFA rice.
Caritas Manila distributes rice through its “Bigasan sa Parokya” program only thrice a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
“Ang sa amin ay yung mga identified na mahihirap na families lang talaga e. Identified na namin ang mga ito through the ‘mappings’ that we have done in the past pa,” Pascual pointed out.
Makati Mayor Jejomar C. Binay said the NFA rice pullout “shows insensitivity to the working poor,” adding it is the government’s obligation to assist the poorest of the poor and recognize the needs of the working poor, or those who are employed but still cannot afford to buy commercial rice and other basic food items.
“Many Filipinos can hardly make ends meet with their meager wages even if they work long hours. By pulling out NFA rice from public markets, the government is depriving these working Filipinos of outlets where they can purchase cheap rice,” Binay said.
Binay expressed concern that the administration is moving to distance itself from public anger by transferring the responsibility of selling cheap rice to the Churches and local government units.