Inflation is never fun

By Herbert Vego

AS of yesterday, the average pump prices of gasoline and diesel here in Iloilo City have exceeded P66 and P56, respectively. It’s anybody’s guess that prices of prime commodities would correspondingly soar as Russian armed forces push deeper in Vladimir Putin’s bloody invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

It’s because the attacks by Russia, a top supplier of oil and natural gas, are disrupting energy supplies worldwide. No doubt, the greedy oil producers elsewhere would exploit Russia’s military offensive to raise prices on the alibi of an oil shortage. The average price of crude has hit US $100 per barrel.

The Russian invasion has already triggered monetary inflation worldwide. Inflation – which means buying the same quantity of goods at higher cost – is scary because it erodes the buying power of whatever savings we have in the banks. One day soon, a three-thousand-peso pair of rubber shoes would cost double.

As a senior citizen, I would prefer one peso in the 1960s to one hundred pesos today. With one peso in 1962, I could ride a bus from San Jose, Antique to Iloilo City. Today, the same 97-kilometer trip would cost more than one hundred pesos. The price of an eight-ounce soft drink was 10 centavos until it jumped to 15 in 1963.

Without inflation or increase in prices, the Philippines would have been an ideal place to live in.  Wistful thinking, yes, but for the information of today’s millennials, let’s pretend it’s possible.

Let me go back in time to those days when a thousand pesos could feed a family of six for six months. That was in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the minimum wage was only P120 per month. Today, the same amount could melt in one click in a restaurant dinner for two or three.

Way back in 1960 when I was 10 years old, a copper centavo (one inch in diameter) could buy a piece of wrapped candy; five centavos, two pieces of pan de sal; ten centavos, a bottle of soft drink or a seven-kilometer jeepney ride; and a peso, a big can of corned beef.

Incidentally in those days, Manila-based Geneto Commercial Corp. was exporting Royal corned beef while Iloilo City-based Lix Foods was manufacturing canned meat products like pork adobo, sarciado and beef mechado for the Panay market.

In the summer of 1960, our parents took us four kids to Quezon City for vacation. All the money we had was two hundred pesos, and – believe it or not — that took care of our apartment rental on 23-A Dapitan St., food and shopping expenses.

The second time I went to Manila to pursue a college education in 1967, prices were still very affordable even if the minimum wage had increased to P180.  While studying at night, I worked in the daytime as a mail sorter at the Manila International Airport post office.

In the mid-1970s when President Ferdinand Marcos had already declared martial law, the economy was still relatively strong because price increases were infrequent and would be neutralized by salary increases.

With a wife and a baby boy, I made both ends meet as a ghostwriter for an entertainment columnist and freelance journalist in Manila. By the way, it was my late boss, Justo C. Justo, who had scooped the elopement of actors Tito Sotto and Helen Gamboa.

I abandoned Metro Manila life in 1981 to come home and work in my birthplace, Iloilo City, as editor of what was then a weekly tabloid.

The so-called PUs (small Minica taxi cabs) were still charging a flat rate of ten pesos for a ride within Iloilo City.

Times have changed. A breadwinner making P15,000 a month can no longer cope with galloping prices.

The frequent increases in oil prices and corresponding taxes have triggered irreversible inflation, where individual income lags behind expenses.

No doubt our currency has lagged behind those of other Southeast Asian nations. Remember that when the so-called Asian crisis erupted in 1997, our peso suddenly devalued from ₱20 to ₱26 against the US dollar. Today, it’s worst at ₱51.50.

Stagnant income has forced Juan dela Cruz to decrease consumption. He would buy a half kilo of meat instead of a kilo. He would cancel family vacations with a reasonable alibi – the Covid pandemic, which has also deprived millions of Filipinos here and abroad of lucrative income.

A friend who used to thrive in manufacturing children’s clothes for export to Guam has closed shop as a result of competition from China-based manufacturers.

“Those were the days my friend,” so goes an old song, “we’d thought would never end.”