Filipinos tighten belts as inflation soars to 14-year high

The Philippines' inflation rate surged to 7.7 per cent in October after a recent typhoon pushed up food prices. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The inflation rate in the Philippines surged to 7.7 per cent in October, a 14-year-high, after a recent typhoon pushed up food prices. The high inflation is now forcing Filipinos to stretch their hard-earned peso to make ends meet.

National statistician Dennis Mapa said on Friday that the latest figure is the highest after the 7.8 per cent rate that was recorded during the global financial crisis in December 2008.

The rate is higher than the 6.9 per cent posted in September, but fell squarely within the Philippine central bank’s projection of between 7.1 per cent and 7.9 per cent for October. The year-to-date inflation currently averages 5.4 per cent.

Mr Mapa said inflation was mainly driven by higher food costs in the wake of Super Typhoon Noru’s devastation in late September, which caused 3.12 billion pesos (S$75.3 million) worth of damage in the agricultural sector.

He said prices will go up further in the coming months in the aftermath of tropical storm Nalgae, which left a swathe of destruction across the country last weekend. The loss to the agricultural sector is about 2.71 billion pesos so far.

Indigent Filipinos are feeling the pain.

Street-food vendor Mariel Encio, a 25-year-old mother of two, said her family is living hand to mouth these days.

She earns a measly 3,500 pesos a month selling boiled quail eggs and chilled beverages along a street in Santa Rosa, Laguna, a province 45km to the south of capital Manila. Her husband has been jobless for seven months after falling sick.

Ms Encio told The Straits Times that she used to stock up on canned sardines and noodle packs weekly, but cannot afford them any more.

“Canned sardines were 22 pesos before, now they’re 28 apiece. I must prioritise buying rice. I buy canned goods or bread only if we still have money. Meat is rare for us,” she said.

Even the middle class is struggling.

Ms Queenie Marco, a 57-year-old bank administrative assistant earning up to 17 times what Ms Encio earns, paid about 500 pesos for about a kilogram each of rice, pork, fish and noodles, as well as laundry services, in 2021. Now, she can buy only pork and rice with the same amount.

Power rates are also going up, so she and her children barely turn on the air-conditioner at home. She carpools to work to save on fuel.

“We scrimp on the non-essentials. We avoid dining out and instead cook and eat at home. No more vacations for now,” she said.

Surging inflation remains a sore point four months into President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s administration. He had high approval ratings in October on most national issues except for controlling the prices of goods, where he received only a +13 net rating.

That low rating reflects the sentiment Ms Marco holds as she computes her monthly budget.

“I don’t really see any effort from our government to shield the consumers and lower prices,” she said. “Life is so hard now. We’re barely making it”.

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