No one should go hungry
Just the other day, a social media user lamented in a viral tweet that the palengke price of one bunch of kangkong—that humble vegetable also known as water spinach or swamp cabbage—has increased fivefold to P25 from only P5 around May. Not a surprise since inflation has shot prices of basic commodities up, especially those of vegetables and meat products.
Last Friday, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) announced that inflation accelerated to 7.7 percent in October from 6.9 percent in September, with food inflation as the main driver of the increase. Prices of vegetables, tubers, etc., soared to 16 percent from 3.5 percent in September, while that of meat products went up to 11.5 percent from 9 percent. The October inflation is at an almost 14-year high since December 2008 when it hit 7.8 percent; that year saw a financial crisis dampening economies around the world.
The high vegetable inflation is an effect of Severe Tropical Storm “Paeng,” whose lingering impact would continue to be felt this month—the storm damaged at least P3 billion worth of crops. This is not even the peak yet as national statistician Dennis Mapa said there is high probability that inflation will accelerate even more in the coming months. PSA said the high inflation will most likely affect the bottom 30-percent income households, but this will also impact even the average Filipino who will now have to tighten their belts even more with the purchasing power of the peso shrinking to 0.87 percent. With the coming Christmas season, that piece of news does not sound merry.
Inflation is even worse for some areas outside the National Capital Region (7.7 percent): Davao Region posted the highest at 9.8 percent, followed by Zamboanga Peninsula at 9 percent; the lowest was the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao at 6.5 percent. A minimum wage earner who earns anywhere between P570 (NCR) and P396 (Davao) daily will have to stretch their budget some more to make ends meet. Adding to the pressure on the cost of living are electricity rates which went up 23.6 percent from 21.4 percent, and transport costs which accelerated to 11.6 percent from 8.5 percent. With soaring daily living expenses, an average family of four, for example, may only be able to afford a kilo of rice and canned goods. And if a vegetable like kangkong is deemed very pricey already, then how can the average Filipino afford a simple yet healthy and balanced diet?
In this era of high prices, unfortunately, a well-balanced diet would be the least of concerns among those who could barely survive. This could only worsen the stunting and malnutrition problem, especially among children of low-income households. According to 2019 World Bank data, 29 percent or one in three children below five years old suffered from stunting.
The situation could also intensify hunger among the poor. Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas wrote yesterday that 11.3 percent experienced hunger last month, with the highest proportion of hungry households located in the NCR. “Why should the richest area of the country persistently have the worst hunger? This indicates a steady widening of economic inequality in the capital!” Mangahas wrote. Across the world, everyone is feeling the crunch: one in four young people in the United Kingdom has been forced to borrow to afford food, while an average employee in the US has to double their average daily work hours to pay rent. The crisis could be worse in the Philippines, where social safety nets are not adequate to support the estimated 20 million Filipinos living in poverty.
According to a Pulse Asia survey last September, controlling inflation topped Filipinos’ main concerns, followed by pay hikes and job creation. The same survey also showed that almost half, or 42 percent of Filipinos, disapproved of the Marcos Jr. administration’s performance in controlling inflation. Despite the urgency of the matter, former finance secretary Margarito Teves noted in a commentary published in this paper last month, that absent in the administration’s legislative-executive agenda are measures to address inflation. Among others, Teves suggested amendments to the rice and corn nationalization law to make these two products more affordable, accessible, and available, as well as reviewing wages and giving modest cash bonuses to help struggling government workers.
Back in August, the National Economic and Development Authority committed “to ensure that there is sufficient and healthy food on the table of every Filipino” as it anticipated inflationary prices due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict and other factors. Over the past months, the government has approved targeted cash transfers and extended subsidies to vulnerable sectors such as agriculture and transport. It should continue doing the same and more—such as passing the necessary legislation to ease the burden, especially on the poor. As Filipinos buckle for harder times ahead, it is crucial that the government should keep its promise and make sure that no one has to go hungry.
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