‘Freebies’ rumor creates long rice lines
Janvic Mateo (The Philippine Star) - September 6, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - A rumor of free rice prompted thousands of residents to gather in public markets yesterday.

National Food Authority (NFA) spokesman Rex Estoperez rushed to the Commonwealth Market in Quezon City after receiving reports that thousands of residents had lined up at the stores of rice retailers.

“Someone spread information that free rice and groceries will be given here today,” said Estoperez, who estimated the number of the crowd at the market to reach as high as 5,000.

Reports said similar events happened in other public markets in Manila and Marikina.

But the NFA described the coordinated move as a “drama” done to create the impression that there is a rice shortage in the country.

He said they received intelligence information that some groups were behind the false information, but declined to name the people behind the supposed move.

“That’s just drama,” he said. “There’s no rice shortage.”

Disgruntled residents, some of whom started lining up as early as 3 a.m., started leaving when Estoperez announced that no group or agency will distribute free rice or groceries.

A number of residents, however, remained in the area despite the announcement, even asking members of the media if anything would be distributed.

Residents gave the NFA officials the slips of paper and information sheets that were given to them. Some claimed that they came all the way from San Mateo, Rizal.

Katherine Bongolto, who went to the market with her child, said she received a text message from the NFA saying rice will be sold at a lower price.

NFA rice is being sold at P27 to P32 per kilo, but the text message said it would be sold for only around P10 to P12 per kilo.

Estoperez denied that the agency sent such text messages, noting that their system might have been hacked by the people who organized the move.

He said they are currently investigating the incident.

Gerry Razon, president of a rice retailers’ group in Commonwealth Market, said he was surprised when he saw thousands of people gathered in the area.

“I asked them where the rice that will be given to them will supposedly come from. They said they didn’t know,” he said.

Razon also denied rumors that there is a rice shortage, adding that the price of NFA rice did not change. He said the P2 to P4 increase in the price of commercial rice is normal during lean months.

He said the increase may have also been caused by the rainy weather that hit parts of the country last month.

On the right track

Meanwhile, Sen. Cynthia Villar yesterday said she believes the government is on the right track in its food sufficiency program.

Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture, said the supposed shortage of commercial rice in the market could be a result of the manipulation of some individuals.

“Maybe it’s an artificial rice shortage,” Villar said.

She said the Department of Agriculture and NFA should address this issue.

Villar said her office was told that the country will have to import some 350,000 metric tons of rice but only in compliance with a trade agreement which the Philippines has signed. – With Ric Sapnu

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