The country’s surging inflation, which climbed to 5.4 percent in May, fueled by soaring food and transport costs, left millions of minimum-wage earners mercilessly exposed to the cost of living crunch. As wages simply are not moving to keep up with rapid and unrestrained price increases, even middle-income families are on the verge of being pushed into poverty because we have zero social safety net for them.
Faced with the current volatility of food prices, millions of Filipinos who are struggling with low incomes are pinning their hopes on the Marcos administration. As they helplessly watch their purchasing power evaporate, they will gladly accept whatever the government can do right now to lessen the burden of making ends meet.
Hundreds of thousands of Metro Manila commuters were excited to receive the news that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. approved the extension of the free Edsa Carousel bus rides until December. With his action, the President fulfilled a campaign promise to make the free rides at the Edsa Carousel bus route permanent once he and his running mate, Mayor Inday Sara Duterte, are elected in the May 9 national elections. The Edsa Carouselservices up to 182,000 passengers a day.
After meeting with officials headed by Department of Transportation (DOTr) Secretary Jaime Bautista and Executive Secretary Vic Rodriguez, the President also approved free rides for students who will be using the MRT-3, LRT-2, and Philippine National Railways when in-person classes resume in August. The Department of Education expects more than 38,000 schools to resume face-to-face classes for the coming school year.
There are other low-hanging fruits that the government can pick for ordinary workers that are disproportionately being hurt by ravaging inflation. A myriad of voices on social media, for example, are appealing to President Marcos to also give them free MRT-3 rides, saying a free ride will help them buy more food for their families. More than 370,000 commuters ride the MRT-3 every day. Some 28.62 million passengers benefited when President Duterte ordered free MRT-3 ride from March 28 to June 30. The DOTr, however, recommended the discontinuation of the program because “current MRT-3 fares are already heavily subsidized.”
We know that the new administration has inherited a country deeply in debt and still recovering from the devastation of the Covid-19 pandemic. Current Philippine debt is P12.68 trillion, equivalent to 63.5 percent of the country’s GDP. The government obviously needs to generate more income to pay down its debt.
Here’s our take: We agree with economic experts who believe that micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) may hold the key to the Philippines’s economic recovery because they form the backbone of the economy. MSMEs comprise around 99 percent of businesses in the country. Metro Manila remains as the hub of business and industry with 201,080 establishments comprising 18.6 percent of the total number of establishments in 2021. These establishments generated more than one-third or 33.6 percent of the country’s total employment. These Metro Manila workers are the ones using the Edsa Carousel and the MRT-3, among other public transport systems. If government can’t immediately increase their wages, it would do well for the Marcos administration to provide other forms of relief, like free rides on all government-operated public transport systems.
With the government’s current fiscal situation, giving cash subsidies to minimum-wage earners is perhaps out of the question. But as we suggested earlier, there are low-hanging fruits that government can pluck, which can benefit hundreds of thousands of ordinary workers currently feeling the squeeze as inflation intensifies the poverty problem. As a wise man once said, caring for the poor and needy people and helping them is a noble endeavor.