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Money for Food March 15, 2008

Posted by Janjan in All, Armchair Economist, Armchair Politics, Seriously now….
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We live in dire times. It is the Ides of March, and the heat of summer brings with it whispers of shortage, famine and economic downturns.

I was reading the column of Alex Magno in the Philippine Star (click on <this link> to read it), and it tells a cautionary tale of how the United States’ impending recession brings with it an adverse effect on the world and our very own Philippines. To quote Mr. Magno:

Analysts are now talking about things that seemed unthinkable only a few weeks ago. Oil, for instance, could reach $120 a barrel very soon.

The reason for that is no longer the dynamics of supply and demand. Oil futures are now under great speculative pressure. As a hedge against the falling dollar, the large institutional funds are putting their money in commodities futures — oil being one major commodity.

Hedging in commodities are pushing prices across the board. It is not only oil that is rising. Grains prices are rising too.

That hits us as well.

Unusual weather the past few months have cut into global grains productions. China, hard hit by extreme cold weather and excessive rains, is prowling all the markets, buying up rice. Vietnam, unsure about its own supply, is not exporting.

We are facing a grains shortage here. Heavy rains in the Visayas and Mindanao drenched the harvest. Imported rice is going to cost significantly more, if we could find enough being exported by other countries.

Rice supply is going to be a problem for us the next few weeks. We are not sure we will be able to procure enough. Even if we do, the commodity is going to cost us more.

The news that the Philippines is hit with a rice shortage is especially frustrating for me. I was just recently in Iloilo, which is one of the country’s major rice producers. During my stay there for the past few days, I’ve been riding the bus going to both Roxas City in Capiz, and Kalibo City in Aklan, and witnessed for myself the endless expanse of ricefields and flatlands, seeing with my own yes how rich our Western Visayas land is. For sure, this is not the only province in the Philippines that has a strong agricultural sector. In Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, we have been blessed with abundant natural resources that will allow our country to be self-sustaining, if only in terms of food production.

And yet, look at us!

We import rice from Thailand and Vietnam, countries that were back before the 1970’s, lagging so far behind us in terms of economy and food production. In fact, the Philippines had the best scientific research institute for the production of rice, which is the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Manila. The Thai and Vietnamese government sent their own scientists to learn how to grow the best rice yield from our country.

But look at us now! We have to beg for rice from our own neighbors who learned how to optimize rice production from us!

It gets even more infuriating when you think about all the opportunities we have had and lost to improve our agricultural sector. The most major opportunity being the “Comprehensive Land Reform Program”, which supposedly empowers our farmers by breaking them from the bondage of agricultural tendency through granting them land which the government mandatorily purchases from private landowners.

Has the CARP really improved our farmers’ lives in any way?

Look at the sugarfields of Negros Occidental, where you still see to this very day, poor and uneducated laborers being paid so much less than minimum wage for backbreaking work. Look at the farms and haciendas that conveniently side-stepped coverage from CARP by allegedly growing “cattle” and having “agricultural corporations” on their land. Go to the farmlands of Capiz where in this age of tractors and the scientific method of farming you still see farmers tilling the land with the lowly carabao and drying their grain by the roadsides where it may be swept away by strong winds and rain.

You see, the problem is not that our population is too big for our food production to supply to. Our problem is that our current agricultural system for the whole country is still stuck on methodologies and farming techniques used at the turn of the 19th Century, which does not yield enough to feed our starving nation. Hence, we have to import food at a higher premium when we have the capacity to solve our own problems with the right farming science and technology.

One of our problems is our very own Filipino farmers. The CARP Law is one major blunder. While the dream of having our own farmers tend to their own land is a laudable objective, the Philippines never developed a comprehensive program that followed up after the CARP. While it is true that SOME of our farmers now own the land that they till, the reality is that these farmers do not know what to do with that land after acquiring ownership. For sure, to increase the land’s yield, they should buy more fertilizer and learn scientific means for better agriculture. If they lacked capital, they could turn to agricultural loans provided by the government, the Asian Development Bank, and a host of private lending institutes offering various credit arrangements for agriculture. They could have sent their children to UP – Los Baños, or to the Visayan State University in order to specialize in courses like BS Agriculture with a Major in Soil Science, and a multitude of other like courses. They could even have banded together through agricultural cooperatives upon which our government grants numerous tax and fiscal incentives, as well as grants and loans.

But most of our farmers did not do any of this! Sometimes, the reason for sticking to the old ways of agriculture is: “I’m old and too set in my ways. I don’t have the time to learn how to use a tractor or these scientific techniques. I just want to farm the way my father did and his father before him.” These farmers do not even want to send their children to agricultural schools because (1) they need the extra manpower in the fields, (2) they would rather send these children to professional schools where they can become office workers, nurses, lawyers and accountants and earn more.

Clearly, these farmers are too poor and ignorant to know that there is a better way for them to improve their lot in life without abandoning their family’s calling to become farmers. It’s just so sad because all the avenues and opportunities have been made within their reach, if only they were not scared to try a different way of farming.

And while our government has been trying hard to encourage our agricultural sector, still, its efforts are not enough. There is still so much room for improvement that it is not taking advantage of.

The government could ultimately solve the peace-and-order situation in Mindanao so that its farmers can finally till the land in peace, and economic development could finally find its way to the fat and abundant agricultural potential of the southern region of the country. It could provide better teachers and facilities to our far-flung barrios, educating our children and making them see that agriculture can and will lead to financial prosperity with the right application of knowledge and skilled endeavor. It could build better roads, provide superior infrastructure, and set up administrative systems to ensure fast and efficient distribution of food and resources.

But what do we have instead? Anybody remember the fertilizer scandal of last year involving a certain unpopular president and her even more unpopular husband?

Our own private institutions are wanting. Instead of encouraging our children to become farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs and skilled workers, we are instead pushing them to become seamen, nurses and medical professionals so that they can go abroad and bring money back to the family. Instead of upholding the dignity of labor and the beauty of the countryside, we have a culture that sneers at probinsyanos and looks down on municipalities that do not have their own shopping malls and fast food outlets. Where we encourage our young to go out and build businesses of their own, instead, we give them the easy way out by becoming call center agents with ludicrous salaries for unskilled work.

We Filipinos are killing our own Philippines! We used to be the richest country in Asia! Japanese housewives came to our country in the 1950’s looking for work as househelpers. When Vietnam used to be just a poor hovel that travelled on rikshaws and on foot, our country already had its own airline service that flew to international destinations.

Look at those countries now! Japan was thrown nuclear bombs but it built itself from the ashes to emerge as one of the leading technological wonders of the world. Vietnam just recently launched its first satellite to outer space!

We used to be so much better than our neighbors, but we’ve become the country that everybody looks down on. Our women have become commodities sold on the internet for lonely and desperate old white men who just want to marry a glorified housemaid. We’ve become entertainers, and minstrels, exporting our skilled and learned by the droves to other countries. We are so poor that we cannot even afford to grow our own rice and buy it instead from neighbors who learned how to culture rice from our own laboratories.

And yet….

There is still hope. There is always hope. I refuse to believe that things are so bleak that we have no other recourse but to desert our country like rats fleeing from a sinking ship instead of working hand in hand to solve our problems. We are so much better than this. We are so much better than we allow ourselves to give credit for.

We need a PARADIGM SHIFT and we need it NOW!

I am calling upon the Philippine government to stop playing politics and start running the country back to track.

I am calling upon the farmers and private institutions to realize the value of a strong agricultural backbone as a means of making our country self-sufficient and economically feasible.

I am calling upon our youth to realize that there’s no such thing as easy money, and challenging them to work towards going back to the farmlands and reaping the true riches from our Philippine soil.

I am calling upon each and every Filipino, from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, to each and every foreign land and clime, this is a wake-up call because it’s no longer a question of will the Philippines become the economic superpower that it once was in Asia.

It has become a question of SURVIVAL and we are soon going to become a dead country unless we get our act together and start making sure that our institutions, systems, values and philosophies are geared towards becoming greater than the morass of pettiness that we have become.

We live in dire times.

It is the Ides of March, and the heat of summer brings with it whispers of shortage, famine and economic downturns.

We need to act NOW!

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Comments»

1. Manuel L. Quezon III: The Daily Dose » Blog Archive » The aesthetics of redemption - March 17, 2008

[…] While Neal Cruz says Rice shortage, no; high prices, yes , prospects of a shortage or higher prices at least, is enough to inspire an impassioned plea from The Magnificent Atty. Perez: […]

2. Sloane - August 17, 2008

Read a few of your blogs. Sums up pretty much what I’ve been wondering for some time about the PH. Specifically, what you’ve said about your economics, labour potential, women, etc. PH has for some time been an enigma to me (I remember it was a glorified ASEAN country in the 60s and 70s, I loved the treats and handicraft I always got from my aunt’s flipino friends…).

I think you should start a revolution of sorts. You can organize the grassroots with your philosophy. Rural grassroots don’t have any major organizations that could stand in your way. I mean, it is because they are not organized that they continue to possess a non-progressive mentality. Organize them for their own advantage.

Information is vital. Charisma is essential. Combine that and ‘sell’ the rural people a philosophy. You’re a lawyer, I’m sure you know your way around when ppl object to what you’re trying to get across :).

It is THAT easy, really. Believe it is and it is. Furthermore, if you die before you achieved complete national economic success, don’t forget that because you got ‘your ball rolling’ in this direction, you will be an inspiration to the 10 year old girl who didn’t think she’d be anything more than a nurse at best or failing which, an entertainer. You’d be a symbol of romantic struggle – bastard lawyer gone good – to the 10 yr old boy who wanted to ‘move to the US and race cars’.

I’ll wear t-shirts with your face on it if you do it :).

3. Aloha - July 11, 2010

Is the rice shortage really a shortage, or is someone getting large kickbacks for shipments of rice from Vietnam and Thailand?

And WHY in hell has Arroyo been voted into Congress? What are people thinking? Or are they at all, when they vote?

This post made me think a lot, Jan, but it also made me upset. For a country that has such a high per capita of brains, PH leaders (not just the president, but a lot of other smaller positions whose goal in their career is getting per diems whenever they do “official trips” or raison d’etre is holding on to whatever authority or position they hold because it is a way to siphon resources for their own benefits) have made such poor choices.

Is the Philippines raising good voters, at all? What do you think?

4. northwolf - July 14, 2010

Hello Aloha, thank you for the thought-provoking reply.

No, I don’t think the Philippines is raising good voters. By and large, we still vote based on personality, and not so much on issues and platforms. It’s a sad reality, really.

But progress and paradigm-shifts are being made. Little by little. Or so I hope.


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