Filipinos brace for higher fuel, food prices amid supply shocks

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Passenger jeepney driver Arthur Arsenio, 48, charged his passengers 13 pesos (about $0.25), 2 pesos (about $0.038) higher than the minimum fare, explaining the soaring fuel prices in the Philippines forced him to raise the rate.

On Tuesday, oil companies imposed another round of fuel hikes in the Southeast Asian country, while fuel prices have been soaring even before the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict that pushed higher international energy price.

According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, year-on-year headline inflation in the Philippines remained at 3 per cent in February, while electricity, gas, and other fuels for household inflation accelerated to 12.8 per cent, and private transport inflation increased to 29.8 per cent.

A transport organisation has filed a petition before the government transportation board to increase the minimum jeepney fare to 15 pesos (about $0.29) amid the skyrocketing fuel prices, Xinhua news agency reported.

The elongated, flatbed passenger jeepneys are the most popular means of public transport in the Philippines. These iconic vehicles have been plying in the streets after the second world war.

“We do not want to raise fares. However, we can no longer bear the rising fuel costs. I hope the commuters will understand,” said Orlando Marquez, President of a transport organisation.

The government fears the supply shocks may drive up prices across several sectors and thereby cause the inflation rate to breach the 2 to 4 per cent target this year.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said oil and food prices are expected to go up, and there will likely be a surge in interest rates, adding that investments “are likely to decline or at least be on hold in the face of uncertainty”.

Bakers had to scrimp on ingredients to maintain the price of bread. Housewife Merl Manalo noticed that the pandesal, a Filipino breakfast bread roll, became smaller.

Restaurant or eatery owners are also bearing the brunt of the rising cooking gas prices. To sustain their clients, they resort to using extenders to keep the cost down and affordable.

On Monday, the economic team briefed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on measures that will ease the impact on energy and food prices and maintain the economic growth target of 7 to 9 per cent this year, including removing tariff barriers, subsidies to some sectors, staggering power generating charges and increasing rice buffer stock.

Last week, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said the government will use its available resources to provide targeted subsidies to the affected sectors, and will continue its efforts to increase food supply by helping farmers improve productivity and importing, when necessary, to fill supply gaps.

“Prices of commodities, such as oil, wheat and corn are going up as demand outpaces supply. That is why we need to proactively manage the impact on the people through these two measures,” he added.

To insulate the economy from external shocks, Chua also stressed the need to ease the pandemic restrictions “at the soonest possible time” to rev up the economy.

Arsenio’s partner Tina, who works as a domestic helper, can only pray that her country could recover as soon as possible from the Covid-19 infection.

“Arthur has just started plying his jeepney again after two years of uncertainty due to the lockdown. We are still paying for the unpaid rent,” she said, dreading the impending increases in food, water and electricity rates.

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