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SONA Special Report: Will you still get a full and hearty meal on your allowance along U-Belt?

by Joanna Deala

A month before the state of the nation address (SONA) of President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., the country recorded an inflation rate of 5.4 percent, slower than the 6.1 percent in May.

The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) said that the June 2023 inflation is the lowest rate since June 2022’s 6.1 percent, but it is still higher than the two to four percent target range of economic managers.

Despite the easing of inflation, it can’t be denied that there is a significant increase in the prices of goods and services that Filipinos have been suffering from. 

This is evident in the current prices of food sold to students along the streets of the University Belt or U-Belt in Manila.

Food prices

As the name suggests, U-belt is a home to dozens of colleges, universities and vocational schools in Manila. Apart from these educational institutions, U-belt also has a diverse food scene, where one can choose from carinderias, fast food chains, coffee shops, and street food stalls that cater to students, employees, and even tourists.

While food may vary from one store to another, it has one thing in common: an increase in its prices.

Republicasia went around U-belt to ask about the current prices of meals and snacks, specifically for the students.

Lu Divina Santiago, a cook in a carinderia, said their combo meal that has meat and vegetables is priced at P75. They also have meat-only and vegetable-only options that cost P70 and P40, respectively.

The price of their combo meal went up by P15 from their pre-pandemic price of P60 due to the surge in the prices of their ingredients.

“Ay talagang sa mahal ng lahat ng bilhin. Ang karne halos madoble ang presyo. Ang manok dati, 120. Ngayon magkano? 200,” Santiago said.

Esmeralda Cejalvo, owner of another carinderia, said their student meal costs P85, which comprises vegetable, meat, and one cup of rice. 

The price of their vegetable dishes range from P35 to P40, while their pork dishes are from P60 to P70. Their beef dishes are pricier, costing P80 to P85. A cup of their rice, meanwhile, costs P15.

In pricing their meals, Cejalvo said they had to consider their rent fee, as well as the current prices of food and other commodities.

“Gas, ang bigas, ang mga baboy, ang mga ano… bilihin, ‘di ba nagtaas?” she said.

Snack prices aren’t getting any cheaper.

Since meat and some vegetables became more expensive, vendor Johnden Ramirez had no choice but to also increase the price of his shawarma to P55, which was only P45 to P50 in the previous year.

“Kasi po nagmahal yung sibuyas, yung mga [ingredients ng shawarma] tulad ng pipino, kamatis. Garlic po. Yung karne nagmahal na din po,” he said.

Street food vendor Marites Salmon, meanwhile, said she now sells four pieces of kwek-kwek for P20, from last year’s P10 that had five pieces of eggs.

“Medyo mataas na po yung binibili namin. Dito pa lang po sa may itlog po niya, per box po P200,” Salmon said.

“Makakabili lang kami [dati] ng— yung per box nito is 100. Itlog pa lang yun,” she added.

Prices of her veggie balls also increased from P1 each to P20 per six pieces, kikiam from P10 to P20, and fishball from P5 to P10 to now P15.

Students’ allowance

The school allowance of some students studying in the U-belt ranges from P200 to P500. They divide it for their food, transportation, and other school-related expenses.

Student Kenneth Enriquez has a weekly allowance of P1,500. He allots P1,000 for his meal for the whole week, and spends the remaining P500 for his dorm expenses.

Jermagne Romero has a P400 allowance a day, which he mostly allot on food.

“Mainly yung food ko is 150-200. Then yung transportation ko umaabot po P100 a day, then yung extra money naman po is mga other expenses,” he told republicasia.

Danisa Ramos has the same allowance as Romero.

“Since hatid sundo naman po ako ng parents ko, ang ginagastos ko talaga a day is yung food ko so, nasa P200-P300 lang,” she shared. Her remaining allowance will go to her savings, she said.

Meanwhile, Julia Paculanan is given P300 to P350 allowance per day. She allots P100 for food and P150 for her transportation expenses, from Parañaque to Manila and vice versa.

However, Paculanan said that there are times that she had to ask for an additional allowance.

“Nasu-sustain naman po ako pero minsan humihingi ako ng extra kasi hindi kinakaya ng baon ko yung needs ko.” she stressed.

So how much should be their school allowance? 

For Enriquez, a weekly allowance of P1,500 would be enough.

“Siguro po sobra na po yun. May matitira pa po sa isang linggo siguro na nandito po tayo sa Manila,” he said.

On the other hand, Romero believes that the students should have an allowance of P300 to P500, considering the high prices of commodities.

“Mga P200 and below, mahirap na pong makabili ng foods lalo na mataas na nga po yung presyo and also yung ibang students malalayo pa yung ibang pinanggagalingan na bahay,” he said.

Ramos agreed to this, saying, “Iba-iba po kasi yung sitwasyon ng mga estudyante yung iba, nagta-transportation pa po.”

Overpriced commodities

Filipinos were shocked by the soaring prices of some agricultural products — such as onions and sugar — in recent months.

The retail price of onions in December 2022 skyrocketed to P600 per kilogram, forcing the Department of Agriculture to issue sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance to import onions to augment local supply.

Last May 2023, the retail price of sugar went up to P136 per kilo in some stores in Metro Manila, based on the price monitoring report of the Sugar Regulatory Administration.

A few days before the second SONA, farmers, peasant women, and food security advocates called on Marcos, who is the concurrent Agriculture secretary, to address high food prices, agricultural smuggling, and bankruptcy of food producers.

Marcos is expected to present his administration’s accomplishments and plans to the Filipino people on Monday, July 24.

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