By GEELA GARCIA
MANILA — President Duterte imposed a price freeze on meat in Metro Manila and increased pork importations in the country to boost the scarce supply of pork and combat the climbing inflation rate, attributed to the African swine flu and the global recession caused by the pandemic, respectively.
Pork vendors, unable to secure supplies at prices they can competitively sell, conducted a pork holiday. However, even before the price cap, market vendors and consumers grumbled at the ballooning prices of goods since the beginning of the year.
Aside from hitting market vendors, the soaring prices of food and ingredients also threaten the livelihood of carinderia vendors, whose affordable meals serve lower-income workers and households.
Due to the administration’s inability to handle the pandemic and the food crisis, carinderia sellers struggle with their immediate community to keep each other afloat as their small businesses try to survive the country’s harsh economic conditions.
“I can only sell merienda for now. I can’t raise the usual P5,000 investment daily ($103) I used to have when I sell various viands,” Pancho said in Filipino. The investment in a carinderia that caters from breakfast to dinner is too costly, and she adapted by selling snacks while ingredients for most viands are still expensive.
Pancho was a carinderia seller for seven years who used to sell viands for lunch and dinner in her food stall in a street in Manila. She was forced to close down her business for several months because of the lockdown, which wiped away her savings.
“Since I am only selling snacks, I only spend P340 ($7) on ingredients now, smaller compared to when I was still running a full-blown food stall,” Pancho explained. “Although my suki (regular customers) for viands are looking for my food, I don’t have the finances to return to cooking huge meals. I even turned to joining game shows to win cash so I can start cooking again, but I’m not lucky,” she added.
Her investment will return once her customers, mostly, salesladies, pay back their meals on salary day. “I can’t keep track of how much I earn now, but what’s important is I have money to spend for tomorrow’s ingredients. What I collect today, I spend for tomorrow’s merienda food, the money just goes in circles for now,” explained Pancho.
Presently, Pancho lends her spot on the sidewalk for free to her friend, Perry Caldo, to sell meals while she can’t. At lunchtime, Caldo’s stall is visited by neighbors, security guards, and workers.
“We can eat but we can only afford half orders,” said Peter Masayon, a construction worker who ate a half order of bopis for lunch. His fellow construction workers bought half orders of mung beans and vegetables cooked in coconut milk.
A half order of viand costs P30.00 ($0.6) while a complete order amounts to P50 ($1). Masayon and his company don’t order viands in full because the amount they save from the half order goes to the snacks they purchase on their afternoon break.
Caldo’s prices increased by Php 10-15 ($0.31) per viand because of the increasing prices of meat and ingredients but customers still support her stall because of her servings, “We don’t earn much, so we choose an eatery worth our money. We’re particular when it comes to which offers more servings of rice and viand. We like eating here (at Caldo’s) because there’s free soup, an add-on to our half orders,” the stay-in construction workers said. “On our days off, that’s when we buy “expensive” food like P80 ($1.66) pizzas to bring to the kids at home,” the workers added.
This relationship between the carinderia vendors and their consumers is also shared in Norma Planio’s community in Quiapo. “Vegetable stall owners give me some of their extra vegetables sometimes, which saves me money for ingredients. I do the same for my customers by understanding their financial situation,” said the carinderia vendor who grew in the area.
“My customers are salesladies whose finances are so tight. They’ve been my customers long enough that I know how their budgets work. When they tell me that they can only afford P20 ($0.41) for a meal (P10 ($0.21) each for vegetables and rice), I give it to them at that price. I didn’t increase my prices, because a small increase will greatly impact their budget and turn them away,” explained Planio.
To adjust to the price increases in the market, the 70-year-old vendor avoids cooking large amounts of meat and adds more vegetables to her menu instead. “What’s important is they can at least eat,” admitted Planio who compromises the sizes of her servings to continue selling.
Carinderia vendors and consumers considerably lean on each other to combat the threat of food insecurity, but several vendors also stressed that they can’t hold on long enough and hope to receive subsidies from the government.
“The government said that they’re offering loans to struggling vendors, but we don’t want to think of another loan to pay,” a vendor who refused to be identified lamented. “Government loans have collaterals, but we don’t own anything. We only have the streets, and the government wouldn’t be pleased if we use this as collateral,” another vendor added while laughing.
Sellers and consumers survive through nutrition-deficient process food
Other stall owners cope by selling processed food instead of the usual lutong bahay (home-cooked viands). “We can’t sell lutong bahay food because there aren’t a lot of customers, there’s always excess food and it just spoils,” said a food stall owner in Cubao.
Despite lacking nutrients, ready-to-cook frozen foods and instant noodles are easier to sell in this food stall in Cubao, which mostly serves BPO workers. The silog seller said they can sell 2,000 plates a day, but they only earn P300 ($3) because of high prices of ingredients and rent. “We wonder when things will become normal again, maybe that’s the only time we’ll be able to get by,” she lamented.
Solutions to the food crisis and food insecurity
The Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that in April, the National Food Security Summit (NFSS), which aims to revive the swine and broiler industry, will take place. The goal is to come up with solutions to address the skyrocketing prices and decreasing supply of pork and the dropping of farmgate prices of palay to ensure that there are available nutritious food for Filipinos.
Despite calling for a food summit, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Noel Reyes stressed that there is no food crisis in the country. However, independent think tank IBON told GMA News that the Philippines is already in a food security crisis, backed with the data of the decrease in supply of hogs and the decrease in the supply of broilers, which is the highest in 11 years.
The past year and the global pandemic further exposed the food insecurity that Filipinos face. From a survey in July 2020, one out of five Filipinos experienced involuntary hunger, the highest since 2014. Sama-samang Artista para sa Kilusang Agraryo (SAKA) said that in an agricultural country like the Philippines, this is criminal.
A Focus on the Global South study, “Why land to the tiller, why now?” (2011) said that “30 percent of the Philippines’ total poor population was found in the top 15 provinces with the highest land redistribution backlog,“ but small farmers are the world’s partners in “providing adequate, safe and affordable food”
However, this will only be possible, as the study suggests, if there is a genuine agrarian reform program to support landless farmers. The question now lies if the Department of Agriculture will be presenting these long-term solutions to address the root and systemic causes of the food crisis in the coming food summit in April.