BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

struck by lightning or probably something like it

It did feel like a blast of thunder, jolting me out of my self. It happened so fast and before I knew it, I saw, in a flash, how vulnerable and helpless I can be against a force so much greater than the tiny speck that I am.

I'm home after spending half an hour at the emergency room of the Capitol Medical Center. I had the left part of my body checked by a doctor because earlier today, a zooming Mitsubishi Lancer appeared from nowhere and hit my 5-month old sedan. It's an outside force I have never experienced before. And it was a scary one. Suddenly, I realize life can disappear in an instant. That I can be swallowed by the earth unexpectedly. We mortals are nothing compared to the great big universe embracing us. It's like there's a Gulliver walking carelessly around the globe and you never know when it's going to step on you. I am nothing but a tiny speck in this earthly plane.

The lesson I learned: Life is indeed, short, perhaps as short as a few steps as I were to the parking space when the lady driver hit me. But no hard feelings. The important thing is I'm home safe, albeit slightly wounded and traumatized, in my parallel universe where the Sun shines endlessly.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Marie's story and the rice crisis in the Philippines

Marie Katoliko steps out of the family’s rented shanty to check if the truck has arrived. It is Wednesday, the time of the week when the NFA truck visits Marie’s barangay on a narrow, uphill road along Old Balara in Quezon City. The narrow road opens to a maze-like slum area which outsiders call the interior. It is home to tricycle drivers, carpenters, vendors, laborers and street kids.

The National Food Authority truck usually comes in the morning and distributes sacks of rice to an accredited store in the area. The truck’s roaring engine is Marie’s signal and her neighbors’ to filter out from their homes and queue for cheaper subsidized rice at P18.50 per kilo. That’s nearly half the commercial price in the market.

The truck soon arrives. Marie, with P100, lines up to buy five kilos of rice. This will be good for seven to nine days for her children, Andoy, 16; Marissa, 11; and her husband, Max.

Max, who works as a family driver, brings home P2,000 every Friday, which Marie budgets for food, electricity, water, a monthly rental of P2,500 for their place and to pay debts to a nearby sari-sari variety store.

Home for the family is a dimly lit single-door shanty with an electric fan, a small television set and a makeshift wooden table. Today, there is bowl of boiled potatoes that Marie has cooked for lunch.

Her neighbors also rush to line up for cheaper rice, unmindful of the heat and the long queue. Today, as usual, more than 30 are in queue. In the past, Marie would buy rice in the nearby talipapa or the nearby wet market.
“Pero hindi na kakasya ang kita ng mister ko pag sa talipapa padin ako bibili ng bigas. (But I can no longer stretch my husband’s earnings if I continue buying rice from the market),” she says.

Marie says that two years ago, the price of commercial rice ranged from P17 to P20 per kilo. Last year, the price ranged from P22 to P25 per kilo. These days, the cheapest commercial rice is at least P37 per kilo.

“Ngayon sa P37 per kilo, kailangan ko ng P185 para sa limang kilo pero sa NFA rice, may sukli pa na otso peso ang isang daan ko. (Now, at P37 per kilo, I would need P185to buy five kilos. With NFA rice, I only need P100 for five kilos and I would still have change of P8 pesos),” Marie explains.

She has no complaints with the quality of NFA rice. “Hindi naman sya mabaho katulad ng sinasabi ng iba. Masarap din naman. (The rice from NFA does not smell, contrary to what others have said. It is of good quality),” she said.

Marie decided to buy rice from NFA stores early this year, taking after her neighbors.

Fely Santos, a 52-year old domestic helper, also buys rice from NFA to cope with the rising cost of living. She takes home P1,000 every Friday which she spends for food, rice and utilities. Her household, comprising her husband and nine extended family members, consumes 12 kilos of rice per week. At P18.50 per kilo, she spends P222 for P12 kilos.

“Halos kalahati ng sweldo ko sa isang linggo ang mauubos pag bumili ako ng bigas na P37 ang kilo. (If I buy rice at P37 per kilo, almost half of my weekly salary will be wiped out,” Fely said.

Fely heaves a sigh of frustration over the high prices of rice.
“Grabe na talaga. Tinatago kasi ng mga negosyante kaya tumataas ang presyo. (The situation is really terrible. Prices have gone up because of the hoarders,” she believes.

Joy de Guzman, a government employee, says her daily budget for food has been affected because rice at the office canteen now costs P10 per cup as against P5 per cup last year.

The long queues at NFA outlets reflect the hard times. Tamar Hizon, a security guard at the NFA warehouse along Visayas Avenue, says the lines never seem to end. The warehouse opens from Mondays to Fridays and people line up as early as 6 a.m. “Pag dumating ka sa umaga, talagang napakahaba ng pila. Iisipin mong mauubusan ng bigas kinabukasan. (If you come in the morning, you will see the long queues. If you see the number of people lining up, you would think there’ll be no more rice available the next day),” says Hizon.

Despite the high prices of rice in the country, the Department of Agriculture said last month that prices here are still cheaper compared to other countries in the region.

NFA administrator Jessup P. Navarro said in May the domestic selling price of rice in Vietnam and Thailand, two of the Philippine's major rice suppliers, was at P59.01 per kilogram and P 45.11 per kg, respectively.
“For the same month, the average domestic price of rice in the

Philippines particularly the commercial varieties was P33.26 per kilo,” Navarro said in a statement issued by the NFA.

The rice problem in the Philippines is part of a larger global rice crisis caused by a number of factors such as rising cost of oil and fertilizer.
The problem is aggravated by insufficient supply and growing demand.

People like Marie can only hope that cheaper rice will continuously be available whenever they fall in line at NFA stores.

“Sana tumigil na ang pagtaas ng presyo kasi grabe talaga. Lahat ng bilihin ngayon mataas na. (I fervently hope that price increases will stop because the prices of almost everything now is going up),” says Marie, clutching a huge bag of rice she has just bought for her family. ###

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The oil problem

The poor take desperate steps to cope with rising fuel costs
By Nguon Serath, Iris Cecilia Gonzales, and Sengthong Phavasath

She used to take her daughter out on weekends or have dinner at a restaurant. But no longer. Prices for most goods and services have gone up. Which has led to street protests in Cambodia and the Philippines.

Sophat Neariroth is among 560 million people in the ASEAN region hurt by high inflation spurred by rising fuel prices - US$1.4 per liter in Cambodia. Sophat says she used to buy a kilo of pork at 8000 riel (US$2) but now she spends more than 20000riel (US$5) for a kilo of pork.

“The price of goods has drastically increased in 2008 and it is affecting my living because my salary does not increase,” says Sophat, who works for the Ministry of Agriculture.

“I have no choice but to reduce my daily expenses including travel and other unnecessary spending. Otherwise, my family cannot survive,” she adds.

We hear the same stories of hardship in Laos and the Philippines.

“The prices of goods in the markets are terribly high as last year I spent around 100,000 to 150,000 kip a day but now I spend around 200,000 to 300,000 kip daily,” complains Bouangchan Linphinith from Ventiane.

And in Manila, jeepney and tricyle drivers are compelled to extend their work hours to cope with the fuel costs, which have risen by about half since last year. Nino Baos, a 30-year old tricycle driver, now wakes up earlier than the roosters do. He now starts works two hours earlier - from five in the morning to eight in the evening just to make enough money for his wife and one-year-old son. Baos says that’s the only way he can cope with skyrocketing fuel prices.

He says that last year, he earned P300 or roughly USD7 every night. Today, he can only take home P200 or roughly USD5 despite the longer hours.

“In the past, I am able to buy more food and we would be able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now, we sometimes have to skip breakfast,” he says.

These days, Baos spends P200 for diesel per day. Diesel is among the cheaper fuel than gasoline. Prices of diesel, however, have also gone up. In the past, he would spend only P100 for diesel.

Mando Santos, a jeepney driver in Manila, faces the same problem. Last year, he needed only P800 (US$18) for gasoline for a whole day’s work. Today, he needs P1,500(US$34) for the whole day. In his 15 years of driving jeepnesy, he says today’s fuel price is the highest he has seen.

Mando takes home only P400 a day to his wife compared to P700 just last year, despite the extra hours. “Times are really tough these days,” he lamented, knowing that the situation would only get worst before it gets better.

“The problem will only make people like me poorer. I fear for the future. I hope the situation will get better next year,” he says.

Fuel prices in the Philippines last year ranged from P37 to P40 per liter . This year, the price has gone up to P59 to P62 per liter.

Kong Chandararoth, a Cambodian economist, says that ASEAN countries, except Brunei, an oil-producing country, are all affected by high oil prices. The Cambodian agriculture sector, which relies on farm machineries and fuel to operate, is badly affected as the country depends on imported oil.

Most of the goods in the markets are imported from abroad because Cambodia cannot produce such goods. The increase in oil price means higher cost for the transportation of imported products. As a result, the prices of imported goods are also severely hit by the oil crisis.

“The poor people are the most affected as they have small income which cannot cope with the higher expense in their daily life,” Chandararoth said.
He explained that it would cost more to import and export goods. The imported products and goods at the Cambodian market have increased. He said the inflation is “very high” even though there is no official figure released by the National Institute of Statistics.

He said that the government should lower the import tax and the consumption of oil in order to prevent the crisis from further hurting the people.

He also said that the government should be more open to importing the machines for the development of agriculture to lower the cost.

The oil crisis has pushed inflation up by and led to street protests in Cambodia as the country approaches its July 27 national election.

Skyrocketing Oil Price and High Inflation: Biggest Issue in Cambodian Elections

“It can be an opportunity if the people think that election can be a way to have the oil price and the goods prices reduced,” Chandararoth said.

The increases in oil prices and goods in the market have become the biggest issues in the election campaign. The opposition Sam Rainsy Party and the Human Rights Party have attacked the ruling Cambodian People’s Party for its failure to address the oil crisis and high inflation.

On the first day of the campaign on June 26, opposition leader Sam Rainsy stood on a roaming truck condemning the government for the high inflation and the sharp increase in oil prices. He told the Cambodian public that if his party wins the election, the Sam Rainsy Party would reduce the gasoline price and cut down the inflation.

“Please vote for Sam Rainsy to stop the price increase in oil and goods,” he said.

Even though the oil price has sharply increased and the people complained about this, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that it was impossible to stop the increase, as it is a global trend. He even warned the increases would continue.

Some political observers said that the crisis could give more votes to the opposition as the government has not given concrete plans to deal with the crisis.

Oil Crisis Sparks Protests in The Philippines

While the protest against skyrocketing oil price took place only half day in Cambodia in June, militant groups have been holding street protests against high oil prices roughly eight times since the start of the year.

Militants also vowed to hold a major protest on July 28 when the Philippine Congress resumes its session and more importantly, the day Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will deliver her State of the Nation address.

One solution militant groups want is for the government to remove the 12 per cent sales tax on oil. The tax has been blamed for high prices but the government said it would lose about P45.7 billion in revenues yearly if the tax is suspended.

Finance Undersecretary Gil Beltran said the government would instead invest the revenues from the oil tax into social services. The Finance department estimates that the tax will yield an additional P18.6 billion this year.

“We will focus on the poor. We are allowed to spend on items like these if we exceed projected revenues,” he said.

Since the start of the year, oil companies in the Philippines have increased prices 18 times. Oil firm executives say the weekly increases of P1.50 per liter (US$0.3 cents) will continue until August.

Oil Shakes Laos’ Economic Growth

Worried that the economy will not grow by eight percent as projected, Laos Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh convened last month a brainstorming meeting to discuss ways to spur growth amid high oil prices.

Inflation rate in Laos has jumped from 6.0 cent in February to 10 per cent in May. The government said early this year the inflation rate would be kept under 10 percent.

“The current 10 per cent would be further existing until the end of the fiscal year (2007-2008),” said Vice President of the National Economic Research Institute, Dr. Leeber Leebouapao.

However, analysts said inflation could be between 10 to 11 percent this year.

The Lao government has adjusted oil prices upwards nine times and only once, downwards. The oil crisis has indeed affected the region and its citizens are hoping that price increases would soon abate.

Friday, July 4, 2008

my thoughts on a Saturday morning

Tons of reading materials are waiting on my desk which probably explains why I haven't been able to update my blog. I just came from school to pick up next week's readings and really, they're a truckload.

On top of all these, I just saw one of my favorite blogs, John Nery's blog, filled with new updates. I've been waiting for updates but I didn't expect to see so many new entries all in one blow. (Oh, John!) I hope to finish them all. There are also a number of other blogs I hope to see updated soon. There's nothing like reading good writing and interesting thoughts combined.

I also have new books waiting on my bedside, hopelessly competing with my dear daughter's demands.


I just received a text message from Charo Logarta of ABS-CBN. It's a farewell text, saying that she will no longer be connected with the network and that she is thankful for 10 years of stories. Good luck to your new endeavor, Charo!


Oil prices are again up by P1.50 per liter. Inflation is up by 11.4 percent in June, above the high-end of the central bank's projection of 11.2 percent. Wow. How we will survive is anybody's guess.


Ingrid Betancourt's rescue is one for the books. It also provides much needed good news for the French president.