The first topic of conversation on everyone here's lips in the price of rice. The last time I was here, you could buy a kilo of good quality rice for 20 pesos, (about 50 cents). In the year since then, it's more than doubled, and the price is rising every day. Rice is the staple food of the Philippines, eaten at every meal and making up the bulk of people's caloric intake -- and the poorer people are, the more they rely on it, so price increases are hitting people right in the stomach.
The lead story in the local paper today was about a man who hung himself in despair over the price of rice. The government provides some subsidies, but not enough. People wait in line for hours to be able to buy 1-2 kilos of rice at the old prices -- not nearly enough to feed a family.
The ripple effects are terrible. Some of my friends here run a program that provides free meals to street children and the elderly. They rely heavily on donations from vendors and discounted rice. Now, nobody has anything to spare, so they've had to suspend operations indefinitely. And the state doesn't step in to fill the gap. Everyone is suspicious of those with farmers and money. "Farmers only make 12 pesos a kilo," one woman told me. "And the merchants sell for 40. So where does the money go?"
People are suspicious of government officials using loan money from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank to buy imported rice, and pocketing 40 percent. It's always hard to tell here, but I've generally found the rumor mill to be one of the most accurate sources of information available in the Philippines.
"We think the leaders of this country knew in advance the kind of problems we're going to have," said a friend, only half joking. "They're trying to make all the money they can, then move somewhere else before the Philippines gets sold to China."
*maybe tomorrow with pictures, but for now this internet connection is way to ridiculous