MANILA, April 18, 2008 (STAR) By Michael Punongbayan - Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay of the United Opposition lashed out at President Arroyo for her decision to pull out government-subsidized rice from Metro Manila’s public markets.

Binay said Mrs. Arroyo showed insensitivity to the needs of the “working poor” in ordering the National Food Authority (NFA) to refrain from selling cheaper rice at public markets.

“Many Filipinos can hardly make ends meet with their meager wages even if they work long hours. By pulling out NFA rice from public markets, the government is depriving these working Filipinos of outlets where they can purchase cheap rice,” Binay said.

He said the order is an indication that the administration is trying to distance itself from public anger by transferring the responsibility of selling cheaper rice to the Church and local government officials.

“It would be unfair for the Church and the local governments if they are on the receiving end of public anger should the rice crisis worsen,” he said.

Binay said the poor is being made to pay for the government’s neglect and mismanagement.

Binay said the rampant cases of rice hoarding, which has been identified by the government as one of the reasons for the increase in rice prices, is an example of mismanagement.

Opposition lawmaker Manila Rep. Benjamin Asilo, on the other hand, urged the President to transfer the control of rice distribution to barangay officials.

Asilo said this would prevent the illegal diversion of NFA rice aside from allowing the poor to have direct access to the cheaper staple.

Asilo, a former Tondo barangay chairman, said 90 percent of NFA rice is being sold and diverted as commercial rice.

In allowing barangay officials to distribute NFA rice, Asilo said the legitimate poor can avail of the P18-P20 per kilo rice, instead of the more than P30 commercial rice in the market.

Asilo claimed business relations among rice traders have expanded to include even government inspectors.

“They have become one big happy family because of the trade, which is why the artificial rice crisis worsened,” he said.

Asilo said rice distribution in the barangay level is the most ideal move to prevent government-subsidized rice from falling into the hands of unscrupulous traders.

Another lawmaker from Manila, Rep. Trisha Bonoan-David, also made the same pitch, saying the government must make use of the country’s “poverty map” to ensure that cheap rice from NFA would go directly to the “poorest of the poor.”

David said there must be a “targeted distribution system” that would pinpoint only the depressed areas for NFA rice distribution, so that only poor Filipino families can have access to cheap rice.

She said mobile rice stores should be allowed to “penetrate known poor areas,” instead of continuing the practice of parking NFA vans in big public markets where they attract long queues of buyers in minutes. – With Paolo Romero, Delon Porcalla, Jose Miguel Reyes

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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