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This chapter examines the dynamics behind the Philippine Government's rice subsidy programme as a response to the rice price crisis of 2008 and its overall impact on poverty in the country. Rice has always been intertwined with politics in the Philippines (Intal and Garcia 2005, p. 1). Each year since the 1930s, the government attempted to help the poor by making rice available at subsidized prices below prevailing market rates. In doing so, the government has incurred significant administrative losses and has had to justify the same in the name of easing the misery of the poor and alleviating poverty. The chapter also attempts to respond to a number of political and administrative concerns pertinent to the poverty alleviation outlook of the Philippine Government. Can the action taken by the government, particularly in making rice available at reduced (i.e., subsidized) prices to the poor, be an effective poverty alleviation strategy? What political and social factors might explain the emergence of this historically programmed response? Is this action administratively and politically sustainable? The chapter argues that rice subsidies to the poor are not a sustainable option. Such a programme cannot really empower the poor as much as it makes them more dependent on power-holders. Moreover, rice subsidies are not financially viable in the way that they are being implemented in the country. These subsidies do not really target the poor and have in fact become political instruments for making the poor even more subservient.
Rice is a unique commodity throughout Asia in the sense that it is able to foster links between society, politics, and economics and does so in three ways (Timmer 2004, p. 19). First, rice is historically the main staple ingredient on many Asian tables. Access to such a commodity on a daily basis thus becomes crucial to policymakers and politicians who increasingly see the need to cater to a demanding public. Second, in many Asian societies like the Philippines, rice is grown predominantly by small landholders. In not a few instances, such small rice farmers constitute the single-largest identifiable segment of the voting population.
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