The news caught me by surprise. I was just sitting in front of the television set two days ago and watching Hillary Clinton less than graciously congratulating (but not in any way yet conceding defeat to) Barack Obama on CNN on his becoming the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee for the U.S. presidential elections in November. Then suddenly one of the girls in the house came rushing in to tell me that people from the government's National Food Authority are distributing rice at the reclamation area behind Lianga's public market.
That bit of information turned out to be true because NFA people were indeed making NFA rice available to the people of Lianga for the low, low price of P18.20 under the Bigasan Ni Gloria (append Macapagal-Arroyo, if you want) program. The only two downsides to the good news were each buyer could only purchase 2 kilos at a time and that the offer was only good while the meager supplies last.
Ordinarily, local folks would look down with disdain on NFA rice which many consider to be smelly and rather low in quality. The town is, after all, located in the midst of a major rice producing area in the Caraga region and while most of the people may be poor, they are finicky about the quality of the rice they consume. As many old-timers would say, if you cannot afford to serve your family the viands they want to eat, be sure at least to give them the finest rice you can afford to buy and you all can still eat heartily.
But the evidence of steeply rising prices of local commercial rice varieties and the rush of people who went to the reclamation area to queue up and buy government rice is indicative of the fact of how times have changed and how the the threat of an emerging rice and food crisis is changing even the local people's attitudes towards their own food security. The air of uneasiness and dread that underlined the somewhat misleadingly festive nature of the rice distribution activity only serves to starkly emphasize the realization that, in many ways, no matter how one may look at it, the rice crisis has indeed come to Lianga and that there may be darker times ahead for the town and its people.
Until recently, local folks used to nonchalantly watch news videos and listen to news reports on television about the panicked hordes of Metro Manila residents frantically lining up at NFA warehouses in order to buy government subsidized rice, serene in the confidence that such a crazy thing will never happen in a rice growing town like Lianga. Now the same thing is already happening in NFA warehouses in Davao and Cotabato here in Mindanao and suddenly everyone here is realizing that it may soon be happening in Lianga too despite the rice fields that dot the countryside around it.
The NFA rice in Lianga's reclamation area that day quickly ran out after a couple of hours and there were many who had to be turned away empty handed despite reassurances that there is no real rice crisis, that government rice stocks are plentiful and that more of the cheap rice will be made available soon. And the local folks are left to wonder what is truth or merely hype. All they know is that commercial rice varieties are fast getting too expensive to be affordable and ready access to cheap government rice may not be as easy as the government advertises it to be.
Government and NFA officials keep telling us to be calm, that there is no need to worry and that the crisis is not really that serious and remains manageable. I suggest that they pay a visit to Lianga's public market and retail establishments in order to check on rice prices.
I went there the other day and saw new stocks of commercial rice being price tagged for display and sale to buyers. After one look at the prices I immediately realized that the government was right. It is the time to stop worrying about rice prices and rice self-sufficiency.
Perhaps it is time to consider panicking.