The hurriedly implemented government imposed lockdown-quarantine to arrest the COVID-19 crisis has brought about unintended consequences. It has caused serious income loss not only to the business community but, more importantly, to the lower and economically vulnerable income groups, most of whom are minimum wage earners, day workers, contract or piece workers, or self-employed in the underground economy… All of whom live virtually hand-to-mouth for their daily existence.
As I see it, unless the government can figure out a way to help these economically vulnerable groups bridge the absence of income during this lockdown-quarantine period so they could meet their minimum subsistence needs with a financial or food support program, both crime and political instability are a real possibility in the near term.
It’s the above concern that prompts me to bring to attention the wisdom behind the creation of the National Grains Authority (NGA), later renamed National Food Authority (NFA). The Food Agency was created by President Ferdinand Marcos under PD4 precisely in anticipation of the need to address the possible risk that hunger could cause political instability in the event of a crisis, be it man-made or caused by natural calamities.
With availability and access to food being a key component to ensure political stability, the government required the NFA to stockpile rice to address the unforecastable political risk like COVID-19 today.
However, to give it a day-to-day role and to always be in the ready to address any crisis, as well as to keep the rice inventory fresh, the government tasked the NFA with a parallel function — to stabilize palay farm-gate prices for the farmers and rice retail prices for the consumers. Although this farmer and consumer support activity is the more familiar role of NFA’s twin responsibility, it is the food security role in a crisis situation that is most important for any administration.
Like insurance, one would hope never to have to call on its support to avert political instability, the unwelcome consequence of a crisis situation that induces a food insecurity situation. As we navigate the lockdown-quarantine period, I believe that in the coming days, due to the acute lack or absence of income for a great number of our brothers, the Food Security role of the NFA may be needed to address public anxieties to insure political stability.
Presently, the Government, through the NFA, has more than adequate rice inventory that is strategically positioned throughout the country. The NFA is manned with competent and well-trained personnel in food security management and distribution to meet any food security crisis.
With the halt of all economic activities under lockdown-quarantine, the economically disadvantaged members of our community will be facing hunger in a few days when money runs out… an unavoidable offshoot of the programs to arrest the COVID-19 crisis.
To address this hunger crisis, the NFA must be given proper authority, clear directives as to how to act and release the held rice inventory to quell the hunger anxieties of the economically disadvantaged. The NFA, when directed, can release the stored rice to the Department of Social Welfare and Development or the Department of the Interior and Local Government, both of whom have capable networks to identify the needy and provide the rice support as ordered by the President.
RA11203 or Rice Tariffication Law, which was passed on Feb. 14, 2019, had redefined and seriously limited the role, functions and authority of the NFA.
Therefore, it is necessary to review and re-establish the appropriate protocols and proper documentation to ensure that regularity and accountability will be in place before the NFA can release its rice inventory.
With the above information, it is my hope that with public awareness, the Palace’s attention will be directed at utilizing the NFA-held government rice inventory as an immediate and viable solution to addressing any food insecurity that may arise as a consequence of the lockdown-quarantine program to address the COVID-19 crisis.
Let’s all join in prayer that we get through this crisis stronger, with better respect and compassion for our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Salamat at mabuhay po kayo!
This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or the MAP.
Romeo G. David is a member of the MAP National Issues Committee, Chair and President of BNL Management Corp., and former National Food Authority Administrator.