Fake witness, fake mayor, fake rice sufficiency

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

Two Senate committees, on dangerous drugs and on women, are wasting valuable hours focusing on two things:

• One, a polluted witness, a dismissed former policeman, who claims Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. took cocaine 12 years ago; no less than the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency has disowned the witness’ so-called documents.

Senate committee on dangerous drugs chair Sen. Bato dela Rosa has given the witness valuable prime time audience, obviously to spite President Marcos who, he believes, has given the go-signal for him to be arrested one of these days for alleged human rights violations, by International Criminal Court agents.

Senator Bato was President Digong Duterte’s national police chief who enforced the previous regime’s bloody anti-drugs war. Casualties ranged from 6,200 to 30,000, depending on who you are talking to. In January this year, the hulky former police boss was ashen faced as he appealed to Marcos Jr., saluting him as a man who keeps his word after the President declared the Philippines would not cooperate with the ICC.

• Two, a Chinese woman who came out of nowhere to become mayor of Bamban, Tarlac in Central Luzon.

Per questioning by Senator Risa Hontiveros, Alice Guo, 38, has no record of birth, in China or in the Philippines; no record of having gone to school in the Philippines, no record of childhood and no record of who her parents were, except that her dad taught her fluent Mandarin while home schooling throughout her pre-adult life. In May 2022, she won as mayor of Bamban (pop. 78,000) with just a one percent margin, or by 468 votes.

My stand in this amazing case is this: if you believe the Philippines came from Malakas and Maganda, the first Filipinos, from out of a bamboo tree, why not a woman mayor manufactured from a sprawling illegal gambling complex at the back of Bamban’s City Hall? If an entire archipelago can come out of a bamboo tree, why not a mayor coming right out of an online gaming operation? In gambling, there is such a thing as a jackpot.

Meanwhile, the Philippines does not have enough rice. Whatever rice stocks there are, are either hoarded by speculators or are priced so high they are beyond the reach of the common man.

Economic growth, while seemingly high, has stalled, thanks to – high food prices which trigger pesky inflation; Bangko Sentral’s refusal to cut interest rates and geopolitical tensions with two major wars raging, in Ukraine-Russia and Gaza, Palestine, while the United States and China are engaged in internecine trade war.

In March 2024, rice prices spiked 25 percent to 56 percent, according to a PhilSTAR report citing Department of Agriculture data, from P32-P40 a kilo in March 2023 to P50 per kilo. The heat wave and El Niño could shave up to 2.6 million tons of milled rice from annual production.

Per Philippine Statistics Authority data, the rice shortage is 23 percent of demand, with a rice self-sufficiency ratio of 77 percent since 2022, the lowest in 20 years.

Since 2022, rice imports have kept climbing, by 30 percent. The world’s largest rice exporter, India, has severely curbed rice exports (down 28 percent in the first quarter 2024), sending rice prices to multi-year high, which highs will last throughout this year.

Philippine inflation has been high, at 3.7 percent in March 2024 and 3.8 percent in April.

So the raging issue of the day is not about an anti-Marcos lying drug agent nor a small town Central Luzon mayor of doubtful Philippine citizenship and provenance. It is food.

Food is 50 points of the 100-point consumer basket of the poor. Of the 50 points of food, rice alone accounts for 15 points.

“It’s still all about rice. The inflation rates of all major commodities are in the single digits, except rice, and rice alone,” says Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, an economist, and chair of the House ways and means committee.

“The management of this rate – within our inflation targets, but still painful for the poorest households  must be centered primarily on rice,” reckoned Salceda.

The House of Representatives under Speaker Martin Romualdez is leading the effort to amend Republic Act (RA) No.11203 or the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL).

The proposed amendments include restoring the National Food Authority (NFA)’s power to directly sell relatively cheaper rice to the market and expected to give massive relief to consumers.

However, the Foundation for Economic Freedom (FEF) has cautioned Congress against amending the Rice Tariffication Law (RTL or RA 11203 of 2019), particularly on restoring the graft-ridden NFA’s power to import and retail rice.

FEF insists on reducing rice tariff from 35 percent to 10 percent, which it claims “would lower the landed cost of imported rice and exert downward pressure on its wholesale and retail prices.”

FEF hails the RTL as the most significant reform in the rice policy landscape since the 1970s.

RTL enabled the country to become fully compliant with the international commitment to the World Trade Organization (WTO) and eased NFA’s staggering P170-billion debt incurred by its “buy high and sell low” strategy which FEF dismissed as a sure formula for bankruptcy.

RTL removed rent-seeking activities in the rice value chain, from procurement to the logistics, the handling and marketing of rice. RTL tamed rice inflation from 2019 up to 2022.

RTL generated around P80 billion in tariff revenues, which money was intended to enhance the productivity of small rice farmers, the poorest of the poor.

If indeed government must import rice, FEF suggests instead the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), which is under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). It was a dormant state corporation and therefore has no known record of corruption.

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