When will the palace worry about the soaring prices?

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It is the question that crossed my mind when I read Malaya’s banner news on June 6, 2008 saying Malacanang Palace isn’t worried about the soaring prices. True? I think it’s one of the misleading signals our government wants us to believe—that everything is under control and there is no cause for worry when dark clouds gather like the onset of a storm.

The government insists it has “strong macroeconomic fundamentals,” and thus expected to withstand the “external shock” of a financial downturn. They say the administration has responded well to food shortages by giving cash dole-outs to the poor in its new “Ahon Pamilyang Pilipino” program.

There is indeed free money to give away as an aid package (P6000 /year) for the impoverished Filipinos. With additional health allowance (P500 /year,) education grant (P300 per school child/year,) and fertilizer subsidy (P1500) to farmers, our country seems successful in allying the restiveness of the poor for now. But this move makes many people apprehensive. In the long haul, the public fears the government’s band-aid solution is something we cannot afford.

In many places nationwide, under the blistering heat of the sun, poor Filipinos line up everyday to buy their dwindling ration of rice. It’s a pathetic daily scene of time wastage which deepens despair. The strain it causes gives famine a greater chance of becoming real. It may take only a few months of food shortages before more malnutrition shows up in the 24 million people who live with less than 67 pesos per day.

In the fuel front meanwhile, gasoline in the pump recently gets another round of increase: a P1.50/liter adjustment to reflect the high cost of crude oil and basic commodities. The peso-dollar exchange (P44/dollar) is down. With no end in sight, skyrocketing costs jacked-up inflation rate to 9.6% in the past month, the highest in nine years.

Pres. Gloria M. Arroyo has signed Executive Order 728 on June 2 to give her emergency powers under the National Food and Emergency Council, most likely in preparation for any social turbulence that may result as prices soar. Instead of issuing the order, it should have been better if she leads aggressively to plant rice and veggies—-a full-scale campaign against the failed import policy which brought the nation scrambling for its food supply abroad.

At a plenary session of the High Level Conference of World Food Security held in Rome, Italy, Philippine Secretary of Agriculture Arthur Yap pleaded for an urgent measure “to reverse the double-whammy of shrinking farm production and spiraling prices of basic staples worldwide.” Yap said vulnerable countries in the world aren’t interested with words. They want action.

How then can Malacanang say there’s no cause to worry?

Inquirer’s opinion writer Isagani Cruz wrote a few weeks ago that the lack of government sincerity and honesty sends more alarm than the problem of food scarcity. He opined our present crisis could be exploited to suppress the public’s attention to the corruption scandals which remained tucked under the rug with Pres. Arroyo watching. It seemed the sincerity and honesty that he referred to was what Gregorio Bituin, Jr. wanted to convey in his eloquent Tagalog sonnet about truth and lies:

SONETO SA KATOTOHANAN

Payag ka bang pawang kasinungalingan
Ang mangaglipana sa ating lipunan?
Hindi ba’t maigi ay katotohanan
Itong pairalin sa kapaligiran?

Kasinungalinga’y siyang pumapatay
Sa katotohanang hangarin ay lantay
Pag baya’y nilugmok, sakbibi ng lumbay,
Pa’no pa gaganda itong iwing buhay?

Kasinungalinga’y simpait ng apdo
Kita nang hanapin ang bawat totoo
Harapin ma’y pawang mga sakripisyo
Kahit man banggain ay pader na bato.

Kapag totoo na’y ating nasumpungan
Pukyutang kaytamis ang malalasahan.=0=

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