One after the other, the rice “crisis” and the Meralco squeeze appeared to distract us, the public, from the more mundane political concerns such as the ZTE-NBN scandal, cha-cha, and the GMA legitimacy crisis. Rice, after all, is a staple Filipino food nobody wants to be without on a daily basis. Electricity, on the other hand, is more than a necessity in the urbanized areas–it drives life daily and hourly.
There is truth, I think, to the speculation that the GMA strategists are using the psychology of crisis to get out of their own real crisis. In this mindset, what can more rapidly dissipate public attention from a crisis such as the ZTE-NBN but the creation of another crisis. This time, a crisis not of its own making or, more desirable, a crisis you can blame your opponents.
Unfortunately, in the case of the rice “crisis”, what was initially bruited by the GMA administration as a supply problem turned out to be a price problem. And sources within its own ranks say the rice price problem, including the recent sudden rise of global rice market price, is an artificial one actually engendered by the NFA itself. They cite the first NFA tender for buying rice in the world market before the global price began to rise. It was an unheard-of US$1,200 per ton at a time when the global price was at a low US$800 per ton–a 50% overprice. As sure as there is the law of supply and demand, the market price of rice began racing after the NFA demand price.
In fact, it created a sort of panic in the very narrow global rice market, with supplier countries taking steps to protect their own citizens and control and regulate the rice trading, including a possible creation of the Organization of Rice Exporting Countries (OREC). It has even caused the tightening of supplies and price hikes in other food commodities (incidentally, the global food crisis is real).
The same sources said that the Philippines already had secured the required supply of 500,000 MT of imported rice before this first NFA tender. This is already enough for this year as the domestic production is expected to surpass last year’s production. The recent and planned tenders appear to be smokescreens.
The question therefore arises. What for did the GMA administration drum up the rice “crisis”? The only logical answer I can find–apart from the political distraction–is that somebody or somebodies are making a killing in the rice market. The price of rice is shooting through the roof. Yet, the mystery tales from the farmers are that the middlemen are not buying in extraordinary quantities in these times of an alleged demand market. The inescapable conclusion is that the same somebody or somebodies already had the supply before it happened–probably through technical smuggling (NFA conduit) or direct smuggling. They are now reaping the superprofits.
These acts, particularly of government people, are simply treason.
The sudden interest by the administration in Meralco, on the other hand, provides an interesting insight into the problems of the transition from power of the GMA administration. The Lopezes are both an economic and a political giant with capability for major intervention in the presidential elections in 2010. They have the connections to all the presidentiables.
Throw in the current situation where none of the presidentiables have even intimated–despite prolonged negotiations–their openness to give the Arroyo people a practical immunity from suits once they are out of power. Add the debatable–and increasingly narrowing–charter change option. Time also ticks towards a political lameduck scenario. You have the ingredients for many desperate moves. The Meralco arm-twisting is one of them.
Apart from it, however, there is the real desire to get hold of Meralco itself–the same ambition that only Marcos was able to bring to reality during his heyday as a dictator. It is an economic jewel and in the EPIRA aftermath, the apex of ambition for GMA cronies in the industry (remember the Transco bid).
What ties together the rice “crisis” and the Meralco arm-twisting is the observable trend since the Garci tapes scandal emerged–to make considerable hay while the sun shines (or before it inevitably sets). This is supposedly the major reason for the Cabinet revamp, but that’s another story.