Rice & shine under lockdown
Alice with her father Dr. Andres Eduardo.
Rice & shine under lockdown
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 12, 2020 - 12:00am

When the lockdown was first imposed in Metro Manila and Luzon last March 16, one thing immediately came to tycoon Alice Eduardo’s mind: rice.

Known as the “Woman of Steel,” Alice employs over 500 people, most of whom are breadwinners. Though not knowing that the lockdown would last till May 15, Alice, president and CEO of Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corp., instructed her foremen to distribute six cavans of milled rice to each employee, or its monetary equivalent. Each cavan is equivalent to about 25 kilos of milled rice.

The Philippines has vast, fertile lands to plant rice.

“I wanted to give enough for them to share to their neighbors,” says Alice, one of Forbes Asia’s “Heroes of Philanthropy” for 2018. “You know, we Filipinos are sustained by rice and prayers. When we know we have rice in storage for the next day’s meal, we can sleep through the night.”?

“Heads of families are food hunters, then and now. They will not stay home if their children’s tummies are grumbling. They would rather violate lockdown if the alternative is to just stay home and watch their children suffer.”

Having spent a lot of time in her parents’ farm in Nueva Ecija, Alice knows that the Philippines is blessed with fertile soil — even in one’s own backyard. “We grew our own vegetables. No one will lack for vegetables if you have a garden, or makeshift pots of soil. But rice you cannot grow in most backyards.”

Alice, who would spend her summer breaks from her studies in Manila in the family farm in Jaen, celebrated her birthday this year just after lockdown and she thought the timing was NOT unfortunate but “perfect in God’s own time.”

Small Laude and nephew James harvesting mangoes.

Grateful for life’s many blessings,  she set aside the money she would have spent in a birthday celebration —  plus part of her savings — to procure 5,000 sacks of rice for her staff, and the underprivileged of Nueva Ecija, home province of her parents Andres Eduardo, a dentist, and the former Elisa Galang, a certified public accountant.

Alice thinks assuaging the people’s hunger for rice helps both the farmer and the beneficiary.

“It’s a win-win cycle,” she points out.

The World Bank had estimated the poverty incidence in the Philippines at 21.9 percent in 2018. Several of those in this category are in labor-intensive occupations, and rely on rice to boost their energy.

“Thus, the farmers will continue planting and raising livestock, commerce in the small towns will be humming, and at the same time, a food shortage will be averted.”

“The Philippines has a lot of arable land. Our country even used to export rice even when farmers were just relying on carabaos to till the soil. How much more now?”

It will cost some P470 million to provide a sack of rice (P1,000 in the market) for each of the estimated 470,526 households of Nueva Ecija, which has a current population of 2.35 million (according to the Department of Health). Pampanga has a bigger population of 577,943 households (2.889 million people). It would cost P584.144 million to give each household a sack of rice.

Melba Solidum with a bountiful mango harvest from their farm in Nueva Ecija.

The figures seem staggering — a total of P1.054 billion for a sack of rice for all households in Nueva Ecija and Pampanga — but according to Alice, whose name is a byword in the construction industry, that would basically be just the cost of building one bridge.

“President Duterte said at the end of March that the government has allotted P200 billion for low-income households who are badly affected by the current crisis, those in the informal sector and those who live day to day on subsistence wages or no work no pay.”

According to Alice, if you take Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan and Nueva Vizcaya together, a sack of rice per household would cost P2.063 billion — or .01 percent of the initial aid released by government for the crisis.

The funding could be given to the local government units of the provinces, so they can procure all the produce and harvest of the farmers, which in turn will be distributed to the various households.

***?

Alice feels so strongly about this, especially when she sees violators of the lockdown being arrested, most of whom claim they were just out to buy rice. “I really think staying home during the lockdown and social distancing as the new normal are key to flattening the curve. Let’s prevent the disease from spreading so we prevent the human and financial cost of catching the disease. When we can, let’s keep our people home.”

Alice cannot agree more with Sen. Bong Go, who has said that the threat of hunger is as real as the threat posed by COVID-19. “Siguraduhin nating hindi masayang ang pinaghirapan anihin ng ating mga magsasaka. Bigyan natin sila ng kabuhayan, lalo na sa panahon na kailangan ng mga tao ng pagkain,” Go said in a statement.

“Importante ang tiyan ng tao. Walang dapat magutom na Pilipino,” Go said, adding, “Hindi tayo mabubuhay lang sa instant noodles at delata.”

According to Go, the Bayanahinan to Heal as One Act also authorized the government to resort to more expedient procurement processes.

As Alice’s concern for the farmers and rural folk show, “You can take the girl away from the farm, but you can’t take the farm away from the girl.”

When quarantine restrictions were eased, she shared her farm’s harvest of eggplant, okra, calamansi, sili, mangoes, and more, with close friends.

“I think those who have always wanted to reach out to others but didn’t know how best to do so have found a way to truly make a difference in the hard times brought about by COVID-19. You see people donating home cooked food to the homeless, you see designers donating PPEs and facemasks, you see doctors willing to put their lives on the line for others. COVID-19 can infect anyone regardless of his station in life. To have been spared, and to have one’s loved ones safe and sound, is a gift we must all be worthy of.”

ALICE EDUARDO RICE WOMAN OF STEEL
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