To help the poor cope up with the increasing prices of food products particularly rice, the Arroyo Administration, through the National Food Authority (NFA), has instituted the selling of the P18.25 and P25 rice per kilo. But is the government really helping the poor or is it just worsening poverty?
Angela is a first year high school student and the eldest of the four children. Her father works as a construction worker and takes home P250 per day while her mother does laundry in the neighboring subdivision and earns between P100 to P150 per day. Angela’s family literally lives “over the hedge” because just like in the 2006 movie animation, a residential subdivision suddenly popped-up in their community without due consultation among the tenants of the then-rice fields.
From time to time, Angela would wait for hours in queue just to avail of the cheap rice sold by the NFA. If she’s lucky, the wait would be for a couple of hours but in most cases, it’s three and even four. For this, Angela would either be absent or late in class depending on the arrival of GMA’s mobile store. Angela attends a public school wherein education is cheap and instruction is done in two shifts – of course, courtesy of the sitting president’s program to conserve budget for the construction of new school buildings and hiring of additional teachers.
Because of Angela’s tardiness, frequent absences as well as poor performance in class (she also had to do household chores thus sacrificing the preparation of her projects and assignments), her teacher called for her parents. Obliged, her mother had to sacrifice one work day costing the family P150 just to meet with the teacher. The meeting resulted to the agreement that Angela’s education would be considered a priority.
The meeting became beneficial to Angela but only in part. From time to time, her mother, or in worse cases, her father, would take a leave from work just to buy the P18.25 government rice. This simply means a deduction of P100 – P250 daily income or about P300 – P750 weekly income as the mobile store visits only their community thrice a week. Well, P250 can be dispensable if the family can buy a whole month’s supply but because of government regulation, each buyer can only buy as much as three (or in some cases, five) kilos of rice per visit.
And since a significant part of the income is wasted just to wait in queues for the cheap rice, Angela is back again to absenteeism. One, she cannot submit her projects and, two, she cannot buy the books and other school supplies that she needs. And because she is already feeling some shame, her social life is affected. From time to time, she also lacks transportation allowance. Thus, additional absences. If this continue further for the rest of the school year, Angela would either fail in school or pass the school with half-baked knowledge. In both cases, she will bear the consequences when she try to enroll in college or apply for a job later. Having a half-baked instruction or education all because of the cheap rice distribution of Gloria Arroyo will negatively affect Angela’s future.
Angela’s case is but one story. There are still a number or even millions of others who also have their own versions. These include the poor households with one-bread winners, those who rely on the buy and sell of “bote, dyaryo, garapa!”, and the scavengers. In the end, these will all show that as the economic condition of the target cheap rice beneficiary worsens, the greater the negative impact he or she will suffer from the “Vulcaseal Approach” of the administration – “vulcaseal” because the idea is to provide a patchwork short-term solution rather than a long term planning that will address the root cause of the problem.
So, is the government helping the poor with its cheap rice program? Sad to say, that would be a wish upon a star. In the final computation, the cheap rice is costly after all. Too bad, our economists are too intelligent to think of it this way.###
(This article also appears at Albay Journal in the column The Sidelines.)