Church running out of cheap rice

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — The Catholic Church has expressed concern over the slackening supply of cheap rice for the poor as its distribution in Metro Manila has not breached 10 percent of the 20,000 families belonging to the poorest of the poor.

“I am afraid the rice crisis will become worse,” said Fr. Tony Labiao, vicar general of the Diocese of Novaliches and the parish priest of St. Peter’s Church in Commonwealth, Quezon City.

Labiao said the Catholic Church’s rice distribution begun two weeks ago and that on its third week, the supply came in trickles.

“So far, we have only reached 2,000 of the 20,000 families who deserve to be prioritized in availing of the government-subsidiz ed rice from the National Food Authority,” Labiao said.

A month ago, Labiao said the influential Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines and the Palace officials have agreed that the network of the Catholic Church would be tapped to distribute rice and discourage people from lining up under the sun to buy cheaper rice.

Labiao said the Palace agreed to provide the parishes each with an initial capital of P15,000 and 25 sacks to 40 sacks every week. He said each poor family is supposed to be sold 2 kilos of rice a day.

He said for speedy distribution and to help the parishes defray the expenses incurred during distribution, the NFA sells the rice to the parishes at P16.75 and passed on to consumers at P18.25 a kilo.

Labiao also lamented the delays in evaluating the lists of recipients submitted by the parishes to the Social Welfare Department so that the families would be provided access cards.

“Since our network in local parishes knows our parishioners who are poorest, we really make sure they are given access to the cheaper rice sans access cards or else, our people would not be able to afford those being sold in the market,” Labiao said.

He urged the Palace to hasten the processing of the papers such as the evaluation of the list and the approval of licenses of parishes’ distributing arms under the program “Bigasan ng Parokya.”

Labiao said people have started complaining because only few families have been able to avail of the cheap rice. In order for the parishes to reach as many families, the CBCP has decided to increase its capitalization from P15,000 to P35,000 so that instead of 25 sacks, the parish can order 40 sacks a week.

“We have observed that the 40 sacks can be distributed in a single day when all parishes put their combined efforts to it. There are more families that need to be helped out,” he said.

Labiao called on President Arroyo to prioritize the poorest of the poor and to help the parishes reach them.

“The supplies of cheap rice are not enough. We are really worried because our poor people are starting to complain. We have announced that they will be prioritized but the supply has come in trickle. We agreed to help hasten the distribution process but we have nothing to distribute. We urge the Palace to help address the lack of rice supply. We need to reach the 20,000 families,” Labiao said.