07/23/2008, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Caritas urges tighter controls on rice distribution to the poor

by Santosh Digal
The director of the Catholic agency wants greater controls on rice supplies to avoid speculation. He wants “critical cooperation” with the government, stressing the Church’s commitment to the needy.
Manila (AsiaNews) – Caritas Manila urged the Filipino government to let it get involved in distributing subsidised rice to the poor. A better collaboration between faith-based organisations and the authorities will ensure that the rice sold at the government-set price of P18.25 (US$ 0.40) per kilo will go to the intended beneficiaries and prevent speculation.

The National Food Authority (NFA) said that it would provide food only those with family access cards which are given to poor families. But for Fr Anton Pascual, Caritas Manila director, check-and-balance mechanisms had to be put in place to prevent the programme from being “used” by local government officials. Faith-based groups, he explained, are more credible because they focus on individual needs and have no vested interests.

Caritas Manila has mapped poor families across the capital so that it knows where needs are the greatest, where households living on 200 pesos (US$ 4) per day can be found, families who can find comfort and assistance in the 160 NFA-accredited outlets in parishes and chapels around the archdiocese.

Father Pascual reiterated that the Church is always in favour of “critical collaboration” with the government, to avoid abuses and illegal actions at the expense of the needy.

In the meantime the NFA allayed fears that accredited retailers and institutionalised outlets would run out of the cheap rice over the next few months.

“We are injecting some 28 million bags of rice in the next six months to stabilise supply and pre-empt any possible spiralling of prices especially during the lean months,” NFA administrator Jessup Navarro said.

For the months of July and August, the NFA should be able to distribute some 6.5 million bags of rice, “but the volume will be reduced to five million bags in September when the main harvest starts and maintained at three million bags per month as the harvest peaks until December,” he added.

On the eve of next week’s address (28 July) to the nation Filipino President Arroyo said that the price of rice in the Philippines was the lowest in the whole of South-East Asia because of measures taken by the government.

She noted that the dramatic surge in the prices of fuel and food has resulted in a global price crisis “unseen since the Great Depression and the wake of World War II,” and this was aggravating the country’s food problem.

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