Maybe this makes sense but I just wonder if it might not be better just to send funds to buy rice. I guess the problem there might be that it would be used not to buy rice but beer, gin, or brandy, which are all very cheap in the Philippines.
We send a box or so a year to my wife's relatives usually with a lot of clothes from Thrift shops and stuff from garage sales but also instant coffee!
Friday » April 25 » 2008
Metro Filipinos ship rice to families back home
Gift packages from Canadian residents ease shortages in homeland
Monday, April 21, 2008
Filipino expatriates and, in particular, workers who go abroad seeking employment, are famed for remitting significant cash earnings to support their families back home.
But aside from wiring money, many also regularly send by sea so-called balikbayan boxes filled with gifts from abroad: toys, used clothing, shoes, toiletries and specialty treats that are hard to find in the Philippines -- everything from cans of sockeye salmon to Swiss chocolate bars, depending on where they are in the world.
Businesses that focus solely on the delivery of these balikbayan boxes to the Philippines have "mushroomed" in Metro Vancouver, just as they have in Hong Kong, Saudi Arabia and several U.S. cities with significant Filipino populations, according to Carmelita Tapia, president of the Canada-ASEAN Trade Council.
In the past few weeks, as the Philippines finds itself at the centre of the global rice shortage, some Metro Vancouver residents have been watching the news overseas, hearing the complaints of friends and relatives there, and slipping an extra 40-pound sack of rice or two into these balikbayan boxes.
"Did you see the lineups of people [in the Philippines] trying to get cheap rice?" said Cesar Lim, who runs San Freight, a balikbayan shipper on Fraser Street.
Every day, he makes a round across Metro Vancouver to pick up balikbayan boxes. One morning, he is in Surrey, New Westminster and Vancouver's east side. The next day, he heads to North Vancouver and West Vancouver. "I talk to customers and they tell me that they are sending rice. They fill out declaration forms. And I can feel it. I can sense that [the boxes are] heavy."
Indeed, while many Metro Vancouver shoppers and small businesses are watching rice prices and looking for special deals at their local Real Canadian Superstore or T&T Supermarket, some are, at the same time, keeping up with more dramatic rice news in the Philippines.
It is the world's biggest importer of rice. As global prices surge, tight supply has become a very sensitive topic in the Philippines.
There is, at the very least, a snowballing sense of crisis among ordinary families. People have been lining up in huge queues to get rice at government-subsidized prices. There have been small-scale protests. Cabinet ministers are urging fast-food chains to halve their steamed-rice portions. The president is talking about a moratorium on converting agricultural land for building condos and golf courses. And she has vowed to get tough on rice stealers and hoarders by sending them to jail.
"It's different in the Philippines," said Morris Torivio, a part-time driver for Delta-based UMAC Express Cargo, a large chain that sends balikbayan boxes to the Philippines from around the world.
He has noticed more customers sending one or two large sacks of rice in balikbayan boxes in the past few weeks and has, himself, sent two to family members who live in the Philippines' central Luzon region.
"They are in the 'rice bowl' [of the country], so the impact for them isn't as bad. In Manila, it is more congested. There are more big boys hoarding [rice there] and prices are a lot higher in the city.... My brother is doing well, so he can go out and get rice elsewhere [if he has to], but we have poorer relatives and he has been distributing some to them."
Torivio, who has been living in Vancouver since 1975, said: "Rice prices here are going up, yes, but we can afford to send two bags. It's just a buck or two or a few more [per bag]. You can get Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Australian, and even some U.S. rice here. In the Philippines, you can't do that. There isn't the selection, the supply or the quality."
One San Freight client, Lu Ning-ning Silvestre, put two 20-pound sacks of rice into a balikbayan box last Wednesday. "I have been reading stories in the Filipino newspapers," said the 66-year-old who has lived in Vancouver for 13 years, working as a janitor, cleaning corporate offices, before recently retiring.
Every three months, Silvestre packs up old clothes, toothpaste, soap and some canned goods and ships them in a balikbayan box to her daughter in Antipolo City, just east of Metro Manila. In January, for the first time, she included a 20-pound bag of rice. Last week, "my friend came from the Philippines and told me that it is very hard to buy rice in the Philippines. She said a sack of rice is 1,700 pesos [or about $40]. I asked my daughter to give some of the rice to my sisters and my brothers in the provinces. They are very poor, " she said.
The price of rice in the Philippines fluctuates, depending on when and where you buy it in the country. Pundits are filling the blogosphere with all sorts of comparisons. A bag of Thai rice at, say, Costco or Safeway costs this much in Vancouver or Los Angeles, plus shipping compared to X amount at this store in Manila. Some tally up the math and proclaim that it's not worth it, that concerned relatives might as well just wire $35 to their relatives instead of shipping a sack of rice around the world.
With many variables, it's hard to say what is more helpful, but what is drawing people to use balikbayan boxes for shipping rice gifts from Vancouver to the Philippines is its flat rate. Balikbayan boxes come in a few standard sizes and customers are charged according to volume, not weight. Balikbayan folklore has seen everything from roofing tiles to television sets to small sofa chairs go into these boxes, along with the more typical care-package items.
A regular 20-by-20-by-23-inch box, which can cost about $60 to ship, can fit two 40-pound rice bags. "It's perfect," said Torivio.
Most senders are very careful to emphasize that they are just sending one or two sacks of rice as gifts or personal effects. The Philippines' National Food Authority very strictly monitors the supply of rice and aims to clamp down on any flow of black-market product into the country.
Tapia, the president of the Canada-ASEAN Trade Council, recalls that a few years ago, a Vancouver-based grocery shop owner sent "huge quantities of rice in many, many, many, many balikbayan boxes. There wasn't a rice shortage in 2002, but this guy wanted to make a fast buck. The Philippines' government went after him in court. They considered it smuggling."
Today, Tapia said that she knows of lots of people in Metro Vancouver who are sending one or two rice sacks to help friends and relatives in the Philippines. "That's okay. These are small amounts, gifts," she said.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.