Meeting halfway with half rice
If it’s not yet enough to just say that Filipinos love to eat rice, the public basically went on a social media outrage when the possibility of banning ‘unli rice’ promo in the country has floated. But the government meant no harm and ultimately, it only wants the best for us right?
What majority of these netizens have really missed is the government’s end goal of pushing the public to become responsible when it comes to their rice consumption. And since ‘unli rice’ has prevailed, some would like to meet this goal half way.
In Iloilo City, the city council is now requiring all food establishments to offer half-cup servings of rice on their menus.
It covers all businesses, institutions and companies involved in the preparation, sale of meals, catering services and other related services that serve the consumers, including but not limited to restaurants, canteens, fast food restaurants, cafeterias, carinderias or turo-turo.
The ordinance also mandates a reduced price for the half-serving, which the local law defined as not more than 80 grams based on standards of measurement in the United States.
City Councilor Ely Estante, author of the ordinance, said the measure was part of efforts to conserve rice and avoid wastage.
The ordinance will ensure rice conservation and shall educate the consuming public not to waste rice in order to attain rice self-sufficiency.
Section 7 of the ordinance states that owners, proprietor, proprietress of business, judicial or natural persons are liable for the failure of the food establishment to include in their menu an option of half rice.
Also, they are liable for the failure of service crew, waiter, waitress or cashier to inform the customer of such option before the customer commence ordering his or her food.
Violators of the said ordinance will be warned for the first offense. For the second offense, they will are required to pay P3,000; and a fine of P5,000 and suspension of the Business Permit for every month continued non-compliance for the fourth and final offense.
In case of juridical persons, the president or chief executive officer will be held liable.
The Local School Board, City Social Welfare and Development Office (CSWDO) and the City Health Office (CHO) are also tasked to incorporate the ordinance in their annual feeding and education programs.
Campaign into policies
As early as 2013, the government has began intensifying its campaign towards rice self-sufficiency, specifically promoting less rice wastage among the Filipino people.
That year was even declared as the National Year of Rice through Presidential Proclamation No. 494.
Pursuant to the proclamation, the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) encouraged cities and municipalities to support to pass ordinances that will require the food service industry “to make half cup of rice available and visible in their menus.”
At the time of its celebration, then Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. authored the Anti-Rice Wastage Act of 2013 which seeks to penalize those in the food industry that refuse to serve half rice orders from the customers.
Meanwhile at the House of Representatives, Congressman Agapito Guanlao made a counterpart bill to address food security. He proposed the Food and Food Staples Consumption and Zero Food-Wastage Management Act of 2013.
Taking off from these things, the Be Riceponsible Campaign of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) was then launched to continue advocating for responsible and healthier rice consumption.
The campaign in 2014 reiterated memoranda and urged LGUs to promote its advocacies with policy-support.
According to PhilRice, the elusive goal of achieving rice self-sufficiency is every Filipino’s riceponsibility.
“The consumers, producers, and policymakers as the key players in this endeavor shall meet halfway with parallel actions towards the goal of ensuring enough food for all of us,” PhilRice said in an earlier report.
“With strong political will, multi-stakeholder collaboration, and responsible rice production, consumption, and conservation, we’ll surely get far and reach the finish line. Only then can we achieve a rice secure Philippines,” it added.
The ghost of ‘unli rice’
Even if Senator Cynthia Villar already denied proposing a ban on the serving of unlimited rice in the country, Economist Cielito F. Habito feared that the issue has only exposed deeper issues on the current prices of rice in the country.
He said that the real issue in rice remains the widening gap between the price Filipino consumers pay for rice and those paid by our Asean neighbors.
“Poor Sen. Cynthia Villar. She was well meaning, I’m sure, when she made that controversial remark last week about prohibiting unlimited rice servings in restaurants. One cannot disagree with her intended message: that excessive rice consumption can be unhealthy,” Habito, who is also the former Director-General of the National Economic and Development Authority, said.
“In reality, the people most affected by an ‘unli rice’ ban would be the last to worry about excessive calorie intake. Those who take advantage of free extra rice are those who need and want it and will not waste it. Expect an uprising if you take that away from them—and indeed we saw the makings of one last week,” Habito added.
According to him, the gap between domestic rice price and the import price, or what economists call the nominal protection rate (NPR), had widened over time, representing a growing penalty on domestic rice consumers through the years.
Habito said it has long been proven that the primary gainers from that price gap arising from restricted rice trade were not even the rice farmers, but the traders and processors.
“With proper productivity support, most of those farmers can produce our rice at costs comparable to what it takes our Asean neighbors to do so. That is, they can compete under more open trade in rice, and our poor would pay lower prices in turn,” Habito said.
“But for the rest who grow rice on lands better used to grow more profitable crops, it would be better to help them shift, and even give them money outright in the short term, than force everyone to pay up to twice for rice just to keep such farmers afloat,” he added.