The Family Access Card could exacerbate the food crisis
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-04-24
The more rice the National Food Authority (NFA) sells, the more it bleeds. It simply cannot afford to subsidize the new, higher level of demand.

When the food crisis struck, even those who never purchased NFA rice started joining the NFA queue. There is justified fear that the better-off families who have the means will end up hoarding the precious grain to the detriment of the poor, the very targets of the subsidy.

Thus, the NFA devised a Family Access Card system as a way of limiting the number of people who would be allowed to purchase subsidized NFA rice.

Sadly, Filipinos have a history of panic-buying which is but a symptom of deep insecurity and distrust for the capability of the nation’s leaders to resolve problems.

In this case, we do not even refer to the credibility problem of the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) regime. I remember the panic buying that ensued after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino on August 21, 1983. The long queues were in supermarkets of the middle and upper class neighborhoods.

The poor perhaps bought a little more than usual but hardly what you can call hoarding. They simply did not have the money to stockpile food and provisions.

Panic buying here does not happen only when there are visible shortages. A mere prospect of social unrest can trigger panic buying; the thought that a social problem may disrupt food production or distribution is enough to provoke the hoarding.

There is no argument about the importance of ensuring that the poor become the beneficiaries of subsidized rice. And to do that, there is need to ascertain who the qualified families are. This is the Herculean challenge – just who decides and what are the criteria for deciding who qualifies for NFA rice.

The national agencies would be hard pressed to do that simply because they do not have the people on the ground to cover all communities. Other than the manpower compliment, they will need to know the community in order to determine who truly deserves to be given a Family Access Card.

The DSWD, NFA and DILG will all have to cooperate with local officials (mayors) and the barangay leaders to be able to cover all the communities and effect a proper distribution of the Family Access Cards.

This is also where the Church parish network could be of great help. In fact, the presence of the Parish priests could provide the safety factor to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of the access cards.

An even bigger task is teaching intended beneficiaries about the system; get them to know how it will work. The poor folks, especially in farther rural areas, do not have sufficient educational background and experience to observe government regulations and procedures.

The Family Access Card is an emergency measure and is not part of the usual procurement process that people are familiar with. Expect those who do not know what the access card is for and understand why it is being imposed to resent and raise a fuss about not being allowed to buy NFA rice.

They can easily misinterpret the access card as another form of government discrimination, an added imposition to make their lives more miserable. In this scenario, GMA will just provide the rabble rousers with yet another opportunity to incite a mob to assault Malacanang Palace.

It also becomes important that contingency provisions are in place for lost or stolen access cards. A poor family cannot be allowed to starve because of a lost or misplaced access card. If the cards can be made with individual built-in ID, the replacement could easily be arranged.

To effectively implement the Family Access Card system, the government must ensure that the system is not utilized for political purposes. No less than Senator Mar Roxas and DSWD Secretary Esperanza Cabral have separately expressed concern about the possible misuses of the Family Access card by people who are motivated by political objectives.

GMA will not want to exacerbate an already explosive situation by playing politics with the Family Access Card. Her main concern, I’d imagine, is to distribute NFA rice to the most needy and not to play politics with the food crisis.

But can she prevent the officials on the ground from doing so?

We all know how petty and personal local politics is in our country. It is easy to see our mayors and barangay captains, regardless if they are from the administration or the Opposition, taking advantage of the Family Access Card in order to promote their personal political agendas.

It is also not beyond them to utilize the access card in order to get back at their political rivals and their followers.

Hunger is more than enough to provoke mass anger. History teaches us that. But adding another dimension to the anger by making the hungry person feel that he is the target of recrimination or discrimination – now that is truly tempting the fates.

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