In the British TV adaptation of the Agatha Christie story The Cornish Mystery, my favorite fictional character Hercule Poirot looks witheringly at his sidekick Capt. Hastings, who is trying to relieve a stomachache by stretching out on the floor.
Poirot: Look to your diet, what did you eat last night? Do not tell me! You went to that Indian restaurant you keep telling me about, n’est pas?
Hastings: The orient has much to teach us, Poirot.
Poirot: You have been warned, Hastings. Do you know what is the most heavily taxed import in Belgium? RICE! The government in my country is determined to stamp it out!
Hastings: I was brought up on rice. Rice pudding...
Poirot: How are you feeling Hastings?
I found it funny that I saw the show in the middle of working on this issue on rice sufficiency—and serendipitous that the China Business team chose to do the story just before another controversy on rice imports broke out locally.
Rice has always been such a touchy issue in a nation like the Philippines, where an unsettling number of impoverished families survive on almost nothing else but rice. Rice and salt. Rice and salted fish. Rice and broth from boiled fish heads or meat scraps.
Rice and a drink of questionable water to quiet a grumbling stomach before an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
Is it any wonder that everything about rice just courts controversy?
Just because how much rice is brought into the Philippines (and from where) has always been decided by interests both too painful and horrifying to consider, it doesn’t mean that its citizens should be content to let things slide.
But my money’s on the irritating complacency of the Filipino.
Any controversy to do with rice—just like everything from corruption in high places to the presidential pardon of a murderer convicted on the testimony of a near victim that miraculously survived—will be swept under the rug yet again.
It’s hard to be optimistic that we’ll get out of this rut of idiotic forgetfulness anytime soon when you see legislators all fired up over a video of two starlets cavorting in their underwear to a dopey George Michael tune.
The lawmakers who purposely missed that waste of time masquerading as an "investigation in aid of legislation” will get my vote—if for nothing else than having the good taste to avoid jabbering about it in the once-august halls of the philippine Senate.
And the President who finally turns rice from a touchy political issue into one of a basic need, and decrees that anyone who tries to turn a fat profit on the grumbling stomach of poor Filipinos will be put to death by firing squad in Luneta, will get my undying gratitude. I’ll even leave the job I love and work for that President free of charge!