“I’m a pork vendor, but my viand is just leftover pork ribs. I can’t even afford to buy what I sell.”
By GEELA GARCIA
Around 11 million Filipinos lost their jobs and had lower incomes due to the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. The Philippines has plunged into recession in August 2020; the country’s annual GDP shrank at 9.5 percent last year, and the inflation rate inched up to 3.5 percent because of higher food prices in December 2020.
The global recession caused by a decline in economic activity due to COVID-19 is exacerbated by the Duterte administration’s ineffective 10-month long (and counting) lockdown. This caused business establishments to close down and lay off workers, resulting in an increasing number of Filipinos suffering from joblessness, experiencing food insecurity, and displacement. On top of this, the purchasing power of the Philippine currency continues to fall back as prices of basic commodities rise.
Pork prices rose to P360 – P400 (US $7.5-$8.32) a kilo and while consumers complained about the rising prices, market sellers said they are experiencing worse. “I’m a pork vendor, but my viand is just leftover pork ribs. I can’t even afford to buy what I sell,” Bechay, a pork seller lamented in Filipino.
“I haven’t been earning in a month. Let’s say I take home P2,000 (US $41.6) a day, two-thirds of that already goes to my rent, and the rest would go to my employee and other stall expenses. Every day is negative.” The vendor said that this is the first time it happened in her four decades in business. She now relies on 5-6 (loan shark) to keep up with her everyday expenses, and fears that she already has over P100,000 (US $2078) worth of loan just to remain in business.
Another pork seller added, “at least consumers can choose not to buy pork, for us sellers, this is our livelihood, we have to buy pork daily to sell, or we will lose our stall. Sometimes, I even give consumers a kilo of pork P10 (US $0.2) below my investment, just to lessen my already negative losses.”
The experience is similar for Ronel, an employee from a fish stall. The 32-year-old fish vendor said he budgets his P350(US $7.2) daily half-day wage to support his two children. “I can’t miss a day of work nor take breaks because it will be difficult for me to earn that money back.”
Ronel lives away from his family, he sends P200(US $4) to his children while keeping P150 (US $3.1) for his daily expenses. “I don’t cook my meals because it’s cheaper to buy P70 – 80 (US $1.4 – $1.6) set dishes from an eatery. A kilo of pork is even higher than my daily wage.” His shift starts at two in the morning and ends at 12 noon, to cut expenses, he sleeps when he gets home and entertains himself with his phone.
Janet, a vegetable stall owner said that prices of vegetables this January were lower from the skyrocket high in December. “There was a time when onions cost P200/kilo (US $4.16), at least it went down by P120/kilo (US $2.5).” However, Janet said that this is still expensive for her suki (regular clients).
“I can’t believe a cut of squash costs P50 (US $1) now. We had random plants of it back then in the province which we all ignored because they were everywhere. Now if you have a squash plant at home, you’re already rich,” one of her buyers said jokingly.
“My way to attract buyers is to give the price per 250 grams because if I give it per kilo, they all turn their backs away. I couldn’t blame them though, we were all used to two-digit vegetable prices, now they’re all three-digits,” Janet added.
The prices of beef and chicken didn’t increase as much as other commodities, but the current minimum wage remains at P537 (US $11), and this makes the P360/kilo (US $7.5) of beef and P170 (US $3.5) whole chicken still expensive and out of reach. Think tank IBON said that a wage increase is necessary and overdue since the value of wages is 7.2 percent less today than at the start of the Duterte administration.
Rice may seem cheaper due to the import-dependent Rice Tariffication Law but this is harmful to local farmers and the rice industry. The decaying import-dependent and export-oriented economic policies of the country cannot help Filipinos recover from its worst recession and strict regulation of foreign capital is demanded to achieve national development.
This economic climate is comparable to the state of the economy during Martial Law, where the GDP contracted by seven percent, only worse. The late dictator and the current president share the same corrupt practices, human rights abuses, and desperate tactics to quell the growing political unrest.
“What we need is government support in our small businesses, we hope they can lend us money to keep our stalls going. We also need support in our rights as vendors,” said Bechay.