By AIRA MARIE SIGUENZA
MANILA – There seems to be no end in sight just yet for the increasing food prices in the Philippines, with the country’s poor bearing the brunt of it.
The Philippines reached another record-high inflation this January 2023, rocketing to 8.7 percent, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) – three times percent point higher than last year’s three percent.
According to the government’s data, the main driver in the uptrend of inflation was the yearly increase in the cost of housing, water, electricity, gas, and other fuels, which rose from seven percent to 8.5 percent from December 2022 to January 2023.
This was followed by a 0.5 percent increase in the prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages, as well as the expenses from restaurants and accommodation services.
Food inflation at the national level has also stretched to 11.2 percent from 10.6 percent last December. This was mainly because of the year-on-year price surge in vegetables, tubers, plantains, cooking bananas, and pulses. Aside from this, annual mark-ups can also be observed in pastry products, fish, and other seafood, milk and other dairy products, and fruits and nuts.
Moreover, the inflation for the bottom 30 percent of income households climbed to 9.7 percent in January 2023 from 9.4 percent in the previous month.
Farmers, workers urge Marcos Jr. to take action
For the farmers’ group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the inflation will continue to rise unless the government gives proper solutions to the price surge of food and essential commodities.
“It was proven that importation is not the solution for the price hike…They should also strengthen the production and consumption side so that the inflation rate will slow down,” said KMP in a statement.
The farmers’ group also called for Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s administration to enact the Rice Industry Development Act to fulfill the president’s promise of attaining the P20 ($0.36) price per kilo of rice.
“They should prioritize the repealing of the Rice Tariffication Law and replace it with the Rice Rice Industry Development Act or RIDA to improve the capabilities of the rice farmers.”
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On the other hand, the workers’ group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) also denounced Marcos Jr.’s foreign trips and approval of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the United States amid the worsening crisis.
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Marcos Jr. and the rest of the government delegation are currently in Japan – his ninth official foreign trip under his term.
KMU Secretary General Jerome Adonis said the increased inflation marks the decline in the real value of the workers’ wages, particularly outside the Philippine capital, where the prices of commodities are higher than the minimum wage.
According to the preliminary data released by the PSA, the unemployment rate in the country increased from 4.2 percent last November 2022 to 4.3 percent in December. The informal work in the country also climbed to 32.8 million ($0.60 million) last year from 29.3 million ($0.53 million) in 2019, according to the research think tank Ibon Foundation.
Ibon added that the minimum wage of NCR workers only constitutes 49.1 percent of the NCR family living wage of PHP 1,161 ($21.13). On the other hand, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has the lowest minimum wage of PHP 341 ($6.20), or only 17.5 percent of the family’s living wage.
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“Marcos Jr. has a big liability for the Filipinos and workers. We cannot sleep every night troubled by this inflation while he attends parties and flies to various countries. While he’s living life to the fullest, we, the workers, cannot sleep thinking about how we and our families survive hunger,” said Adonis.
Urgent relief and wage hike, much needed now
Ibon Foundation, the worsening inflation, and soaring food prices drive millions of Filipinos into hunger. Because of this, cash assistance and wage hikes should be given by the government.
Last year, the government withheld P18.3 billion ($0.33 billion) in targeted cash transfers, while this year, approximately P 7.5 billion ($0.14 billion) was cut from the regular emergency assistance budget and P 5.1 billion ($0.093 billion) for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), said IBON.
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The group added that a wage hike would relieve millions of workers.
“Inflation has been accelerating for the last seven months apart from a momentary and only incremental dip in August 2022. It can help millions of Filipino families that can hardly make ends meet,” said Ibon. (JJE, RVO)