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Palace: No unrest, Arroyo on top of situation

By Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:15:00 04/20/2008

Filed Under: Agriculture, Food, rice problem

MANILA, Philippines?The tight supply of rice worldwide will not cause ?riots and unrest? in the country, Malacaang said on Saturday.

Palace officials said President Macapagal-Arroyo should not be blamed for the soaring prices of rice in the market after a foreign economist commented that the government had to import more rice because the President?s job was at stake.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Anthony Golez said President Arroyo had assured the people of a ?stable supply and its efficient distribution.?

Darren Cooper, a senior economist with the International Grains Council, said in London Thursday ?the President?s job is on the line,? thus she ordered a bigger rice importation.

?They have to feed the population,? he said.

Golez, however, said the decision of the President to continue importing rice had no political undertones, but was aimed at ensuring a steady and affordable supply of rice around the country, particularly for the poor.

Asked about the possibility that poor families would take to the streets in the event of a full-blown rice crisis, Golez said:

?We as a people and nation would never allow riots and unrest because we believe in our laws and government institutions that are working for our own benefit, particularly in solving the rice problem and other pressing global issues,? he said.

Food riots have broken out in Indonesia, Haiti and several African countries.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said over state-run dzRB (Radyo ng Bayan) that the rice problem was a ?global situation,? and that President Arroyo could only mitigate its impact on the population.

?So what happens in other parts of the world affects us because we are a rice-eating country. So our President is doing what needs to be done to lessen the effects of this rice situation,? he said in Filipino.

Bunye said riots only occurred in countries that didn?t produce rice, apparently referring to Haiti whose government collapsed after it failed to stem its food crisis.

Even if the government pushed through with its plan to pull out subsidized rice from the public markets, Bunye still did not foresee food riots.

Irony of high prices

But a senior prelate yesterday lamented the irony in the upsurge of rice prices in two of the country?s rice-producing provinces.

In a statement, Palo Archbishop Jose Palma said Samar and Leyte, which are expected to have an abundant supply of the staple, are also suffering from the high prices of rice like the rest of the country.

?It is rather unfortunate that Leyte and Samar are rice producing provinces but this is happening,? the archbishop noted, pointing out that people in the two provinces were lining up outside National Food Authority (NFA) rice outlets ?like the supply is running out for good.?

Agriculture officials are slated to meet on Monday at UP Los Baos in Laguna to discuss food security, current concerns and strategies to further boost rice production.

?The rice situation will be analyzed from various viewpoints: Production technology, production efficiency, agricultural machinery, natural resources and technology indicators and markets,? the organizers said. With reports from Jeannette I. Andrade and Amy R. Remo

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