By PRINCESS FRIEL LONTOC and ZYSA MEI ELLORAN
MANILA – As a stall owner in one of Manila’s Altura market, Erlinda Dreo said selling fish has been her family’s main source of income for nearly two decades. The market sits near the busy Nagtahan Bridge, where car honks and the smell of fresh produce fills the air.
The busy market is dim, lit only with small bulbs in the stalls as buyers, mostly coming from poor and workers communities nearby, haggle their way to buying fresh produce. Dreo would have gladly given in to their offer but the harsh reality is that the recent months have also become harder for her and fellow market vendors with the increasing prices of everything.
“It has really affected us. You have to scrimp because our daily profit has decreased from P500 to P300. We have to make do with that,” Dreo told Bulatlat in Filipino.
The Philippines has recently reached an all-time high of 7.7 inflation rate, which independent thinktank Ibon Foundation described as the “fastest” in the past 14 years. So far, the Philippine government said tempering the increasing prices is its top priority and has offered to raise interest rates.
Ibon Foundation, however, said this can be double-edged and is a “mechanical, conventional and inappropriate approach to current conditions.”
A recent survey revealed that nearly half of Filipinos disapproved of how the Marcos Jr. administration is handling the inflation rate.
“It’s harder to earn money nowadays. The consumers are also running out of money, not unlike before the pandemic. Back then, we had great sales, but now, there are days when we cannot even sell much,” said Dreo.
Dreo, a fish vendor for the past 18 years, said she has fish transported to her every day all the way from the Bicol region. After picking up the supply in the wee hours of the morning, she would then rush to the market to open her stall at 5:00 or 6:00 a.m.
“We want to have a good stall where we can sell fish. These come all the way from Bicol. We live by the sea and these are transported daily and we pick them up at the bus station,” Dreo said.
Other fish vendors like Evelyn Eleazar, 55, get their supply from either Navotas port or in Farmers Market in Cubao, Quezon City. Both said that the prices have increased wherever they get their supply.
Eleazar said they usually add only a dollar or so per kilo to cover the costs of freight and ice fees.
“We add only P50 for freight and ice fees, rather than usually pricing it at P20. That will lessen our profits and cause us to come up short,” she says.
Their plight as fish vendors worsened following the aftermath of Typhoon Paeng, which hit many parts of the country and brought destruction and flooding to many coastal communities. Prices of fish have increased further, which, Eleazar said, happens everytime there is a typhoon.
Wendell Hernandez, a store owner who sells rice, said most of his customers usually opt for cheaper options that cost P36 to P39 per kilo. Meanwhile, nearby eateries buy imported Thailand rice that ranges from P45 to P48 per kilo.
Hernandez said that with the increasing prices of basic commodities, he tries to provide discounts whenever they can, particularly by providing a P30 discount for every 25 kilos of rice, for resellers who wish to buy in bulk. “It is not that much but that can still help small store owners.”
He has been selling rice for the past four years now, with their supply often coming from the provinces of Isabela and Bulacan. They take into account the transportation cost in determining their prices, which have also soared in the past months.
“Our capital has also increased. Instead of using our money to buy other goods to sell, we spend it all on buying rice to sell,” Hernandez told Bulatlat in Filipino.
Like Hernandez, a 23-year-old college student and a part-time vegetable vendor, Stephen, not his real name, said they also try to keep the prices low for their frequent customers, even if that means lesser income for them. He said they usually add only about P10 or P13 per kilo, especially for the prices of staples like onion, tomatoes, chilies, and ginger.
Stephen began working as a vendor when he was only 11 years old. Along with his now employer, they would purchase vegetables in bulk in Divisoria, Manila, which they would resell in the Altura market. Prices, he said, depend on both the weather and supply.
Meanwhile, fruit vendor Ellyace is banking on the upcoming holidays to be able to sell more. But the higher prices also meant that they would have to buy less produce because of limited capital. “We used to be able to buy mangoes by the sacks. But now, we just buy (a few kilos) because of the high prices.”
Instead of getting help, Ellyace decried that there are police officers and village officials who would ask for protection money in case raids happen. This, she said, amounts to about a dollar a day. This, he said, adds to their daily expenses.
“We no longer have a stall inside the market. It is difficult to get one so we have to settle here,” she told Bulatlat, referring to their spot by the road.
Their sales have also been reduced after the government demolished a community of urban poor dwellers to give way to the ongoing construction.
“Those families used to be our regular customers,” said meat vendor Arlo.
‘We saw it coming’
In a statement, farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said that they “saw it coming” with the current administration’s lack of decisive efforts to bring down the prices of staples.
“This is a continuing failure of Bongbongnomics,” the group said, urging the government to veer away with its “importation obsession” and instead focus on investing in local food production.
Fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, on the other hand, said there are doable solutions that the government can do to strengthen the fish industry and the local food production.
Pamalakaya chairperson Fernando Hicap said, “this drastic shift in economic policies only takes the current administration’s political will to strengthen our local economy and productive forces.” (JJE, RVO)