Cascading the message effectively
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - March 28, 2020 - 12:00am

There are basically two major problems facing the government following the rise in COVID-19 infections in the country – first, how to prevent the virus from spreading and infecting more people and second, how to make sure that the people have enough food on their table.

The first problem was of course addressed by the national government by putting the entire Luzon under enhanced community quarantine and generally making sure that people stay at home and go out only to buy essentials like food and medicine.

The second problem is not much of one at least for those who can afford. Many of those in the upper to lower-middle class either still go to supermarkets or groceries to buy what they need or have their groceries delivered, except for those who dread leaving their homes for fear of catching the virus.

Unfortunately, the very reliable Honestbee delivery service app stopped operating in the Philippines early last year due to funding problems.  Metromart Philippines, which offers online grocery delivery service, continued but maybe due to the sudden surge of orders since the start of the quarantine, no longer entertains new orders. If you now go to their app and try to select delivery time, there are no new dates, even after March 27, that are open.

But how about those who cannot afford to stock up on food and just buy what they need on a daily basis?

Lately, however, even those who can afford find that grocery stocks have started running out.

Some meat processors are complaining that their raw materials could not reach their factories due to the checkpoints leading to the plants, that company shuttles for plant employees are being stopped, and that imported raw materials are being held up at the ports because the custom brokers who are not among those authorized to travel cannot go to the Bureau of Customs to file the import entries. These, despite directives from inter-agency task force that cargo should remain unimpeded. Obviously, there is a problem cascading the message to the ground or trying to make those implementing the IATF directives understand. The IATF members, especially the Philippine National Police or those manning the checkpoints, unfortunately have a very bad communications strategy. It is very crucial these days to make sure that the information from the IATF is the same information relayed to the people on the ground.

“And more importantly, the information must be communicated clearly and correctly with the right level of impact, otherwise they are just creating a disordered message. The cascade  doesn’t rely on conveying the message, the hard work is reinforcing it to the point where each member of the organization fully understands the information and what is required of them.”(Nine Tips for an Effective Communication Cascade Strategy posted in interact-intranet.com)

If this problem remains unaddressed, many food manufacturers will run out of inventory soon and we will find the grocery or even sari-sari store shelves empty.

Food security concerns

Former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Romy David sent a very timely article, emphasizing the need for food security which this government obviously has not given the much-needed attention. Here it goes:

“The hurriedly implemented government imposed lockdown-quarantine to arrest the Covid-19 crisis has brought about unintended consequences.

“It has caused serious income loss not only to the business community but more importantly to the lower and economically vulnerable income groups, most of whom are minimum wage earners, day workers, contract or piece workers, or self-employed in the underground economy, all of who live virtually hand-to-mouth for their daily existence.

“As I see it, unless government can figure out a way to help these economically vulnerable group bridge the absence of income during this lockdown-quarantine period so they could meet their minimum subsistence needs with a financial or food support program, both crime and political instability is a real possibility in the near term.

“It’s the above concern that prompts me to bring to attention the wisdom behind the creation of the National Grains Authority later renamed NFA. The food agency was created by President Marcos under PD No. 4 precisely in anticipation of the need to address the possible risk that hunger could cause political instability in the event of a crisis, be it man-made or caused by a natural calamity.

“The availability and access to food being a key component to assure political stability, government required NFA to stockpile rice to address the unforecastable political risk like Covid-19 today.

“However, to give it a day-to-day role and to always be in the ready to address any crisis, as well as, to keep the rice inventory fresh, government tasked the NFA with a parallel function to stabilize palay farm gate prices, for the farmers and rice retail prices, for the consumers.

“Although this farmer and consumer support activity is the more familiar role of NFA’s twin responsibility, it is the food security role in a crisis situation that is most important for any administration.

“Like insurance, one would hope never to have to call on its support to avert political instability, the unwelcome consequence of a crisis situation that induces a food insecurity situation.

“As we navigate the lockdown-quarantine period, I believe that in the coming days, due to the acute lack or absence of income for a great number of our brothers, the food security role of NFA may be needed to address public anxieties to insure political stability.

“Presently, the government, through NFA, has more than adequate rice inventory that is strategically positioned throughout the country. NFA is manned with competent and well trained personnel in food security management and distribution to meet any food security crisis.

“With the halt of all economic activities, the economically disadvantaged members of our community will be facing hunger in a few days when money runs out... an unavoidable offshoot of the programs to arrest the Covid-19 crisis.

“To address this hunger crisis, NFA must be given proper authority, clear directives as to how to act and release the held rice inventory to quell the hunger anxieties of the economically disadvantaged.

“NFA, when directed, can release the stored rice to the DSWD or the DILG, both of whom have capable networks to identify the needy and provide the rice support as ordered by the President.

“The recently passed RA11203 Rice Tariffication Law last Feb 14, 2019 had redefined and seriously limited the role, functions and authority of NFA.

“Therefore, it is necessary to review and reestablish the appropriate protocols and proper documentation to insure regularity and accountability will be in place before NFA can release its rice inventory.

“It is my hope that the Palace’s attention will be directed at utilizing the NFA held government rice inventory as an immediate and viable solution to addressing any food insecurity that may arise as a consequence of the lockdown-quarantine program.”

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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