MANILA – In decades past, the typical meal of the poorest Filipino families consisted of the most affordable vegetables in season, the cheapest rice and a fish known locally as galunggong (round scad), usually referred to as GG.
The Duterteadministraton has taken to importing two out of the three staples, with only locally grown vegetables still available to the general public.
This month, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol gave the go signal to import 12,000 metric tons of GG, after the National Food Administration (NFA) earlier approved the importation of 250,000 MT of rice from Vietnam and Thailand.
The first batch of the imported rice turned out to be infested with bukbok (weevil).
On Tuesday, August 28, Senator Cynthia Villar said perhaps it would be better if Filipinos not eat GG at all. The chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture said the government should scratch its plan to import the inexpensive fish due to reports that exporters were lacing them with formalin to keep them fresh longer.
Her solution? “Let’s eat more vegetables,” she said.
As for the infested rice, Villar slammed the NFA for buying the stock in the first place. NFA officials should eat the bad rice, she said.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan blamed both Pinol and the NFA for the growing rice shortage.
While the imported rice has already arrived, shortages are still being experienced in various parts of the country including Metro Manila.
Most retailers offer rice priced at P50 or more per kilo, even as the NFA insists that sufficient stocks of the staple are available at P37/kilo.
The rice shortage has reached crisis proportions in Zamboanga City, currently under a state of calamity.
The rice shortage was confirmed by the Philippine Rice Research Institute, prices of which hit record highs in the second week of August. The country, the institute said, was “without a comfortable level of stocks.”
According to the Agriculture department, the country has a 45-day supply of rice available, but the ideal inventory is a 90-day supply.
Also, according to Pinol, the infested rice is still edible as long as it is washed and cooked properly.
Filipino consumers’ woes are far from over as BangkoSentral ng Pilipinas Gov. Nestor Espenilla Jr. said Tuesday that the country’s inflation rate will peak at the current third quarter. This means that the prices of consumer goods including rice and fish are expected to climb further.