BICOL RICE: Now 1 US Dollar, next week 1 Euro

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Rice prices in Bicol have shot up. BICOLTODAY.COM PHOTO
Rice prices in Bicol have shot up. BICOLTODAY.COM PHOTO

By Joey Natividad
Special Correspondent

PILI, CAMARINES SUR, 1Sept2013 (BicolToday.com) –  Getting a dose of American nightmare, rural folks in this province must squeeze their stomachs much tighter after a series of rice price increases over a period of 7 weeks have pegged the rice at 42 pesos per kilo last week, up from a previous 38 pesos levelthe other week.

This week, prices have shot up tp P45/kilo starting Thursday, August 26, and may rise again anytime next week. These price increases almost reflect the exchange rate of 44 pesos to a dollar at the foreign exchange market.

Cynics remarked with sarcasm that rice shall cost one Euro about P62.00 within 2 weeks from now, unless government intervenes to halt the galloping price increases.

A pedicab driver told BicolToday.com that he has to pedal more for that additional passenger to earn that extra peso to pay for that prohibited price. But, the extra passengers are getting rare to find as they prefer to walk to save the precious fare money to pay for that precious kilo of rice.

School children have been observed to walk to school and back home after their parents cut off their daily allowances to save more to pay for that extra kilo.

This current price of rice in rural Bicol is still lower as compared to riceat Metro Manila and its satellite towns where it is much higher.

Aware about the absence of government control, and negligence by government officials tasked to check on price of commodities, rural folks here fear that rice might push up farther as the rainy monsoon season continues to unload its heavy burden of rains to flood the Philippine agricultural plains.

Last May, rice was steady at 30-33 pesos bracket, relatively high as compared to last year’s steady price of 28-30 pesos on the same month. But, several weeks ago, rice has been gradually inching up,squeezing painfully at the poor man’s stomach lately.

“It seems rice is climbing up at 3 pesos per kilo every four days this month,” said a hapless mother of five kids.

Rural labor theoretically is pegged at 220 pesos daily wage, but common practice in Camarines Sur has placed labor at 150 pesos a day for agricultural workers, equivalent to less than 4 US dollars. At I dollar (PhP44) per kilo of rice, the staple food represents 33% of a worker’s one day wage. But, the kilo of rice does not end here.

The worker and his family of six must consume an average of 2 and a half kilos (equivalent to PhP110., or US dollars 2.50) to stay on a daily survival subsistence under sub-human poverty condition. And, the government expects the rural Filipino to stay healthy and think sanely enough on how to properly budget the remaining Php 45.00 (US dollar 1.50) for the other food viands, children’s daily needs, water and electricity, clothing, medicines, etc.

President Aquino’s 4 P’s program is only a palliative to temporarily cushion the rural Filipino’s hungry stomach for a few days – a reprieve to eat decently for a few days. The only real gainers in the 4 P’s program are the rural retail stores and town groceries which enjoy brisk sales for four days during cash pay-out among beneficiaries.

According to a middle-level rice miller, the surge of rice price hike was due to law of supply-and-demand, and not to scheming manipulation by rice traders and the bigwigs in Camarines’ Sur rice cartel.

But, other observers have noted that the government has stocks of imported rice in strategic warehouses throughout the country. The National Food Authority (NFA) is selling rice at Php 1,250.00 per 50-kilo sack, or Php25.00 per kilo, but the NFA rice has found its way into the market being sold at Php 39.00- a greedy mark up of Php 14.00 per-kilo on that foul-smelling NFA rice. As matter of policy, NFA rice is supposed to be the poor man’s rice in times of calamities when there is uncontrolled increase of prices of basic commodities.

There is no report of government investigation being undertaken on why the commodity has shot up in recent weeks.

As of Wednesday, August 28, a big rice miller in Tigaon town, this province, is reported as unloading his commercial rice at Php 2,100.00 per 50-kilo sack, or equivalent to Php 42.00 per kilo. This will end up being sold at the market this week at Php 44 -45.00 as fixed by middlemen and rice retailers.

Ultimately, it’s the Bicol poor who gets an unfair deal. Next week is another round of rice price increase, and sad enough, the government isn’t looking and listening. The consumers are not complaining, either they are in despair or already desensitized by too much hardships and sufferings in their daily struggle to survive. [BicolToday.com]

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