Hiking issues

Anthony Chua

With the approval of the P20 wage hike in Metro Manila last May 16, both the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Pinoy workers supposedly have something to smile about. After enduring the skyrocketing price increases of rice, food, oil and other basic commodities, both the President and the laborers were able to find relief—from hunger and utter poverty for the latter and from her dwindling popularity to the Filipino masses for the former.

As always, the transport sector, which did not allow to be left behind from the hiking bandwagon, requested for transport fee hike. Again, to appease the sentiments of the riled public, President Arroyo, through Land Transportation, Franchising and Regulatory Board, approved effective May 21, a fee hike of 50 centavos for jeepneys (P8 from P7.50); P1 for regular buses (P9 from P8); and P1.50 (P11.50 from P10).

Congratulations for the prompt response, Madam President. But are the labor and transport sectors better off because of these two successive hikes? Are the hikes enough to compensate the escalating prices of commodities?

Juan dela Cruz cries NO! Economists agree.

Three economists say that the P20 wage hike won’t do any good to Filipinos, according to an article published last May 19 in The Manila Times. Myrna Asuncion, officer-in-charge of the National Economic and Development Authority’s national and policy staff said that it would do little. Benjamin Diokno, professor at the University of the Philippines, said P20 won’t make any difference. Victor Abola, economics professor at the University of the Asia and the Pacific, said that the hike might cause inflation and could make things even worse.

On the part of the transport sector, the surging world oil price is their nemesis. On May 21, the very same day the fee hike became effective, oil spiked to $130 per barrel, sending a signal of yet another impending oil price increase.

It is very apparent that the Philippines is greatly hit by the spiraling increase of food and oil prices. In fairness with the Arroyo administration, at least it has quickly responded to this by raising the minimum wage and transport fees. But it is minimal compared with what the Filipino laborers expect. Anyway, the hikes were made to soften the impact of rising prices and NOT a major step in curbing poverty, which has been crippling Filipinos ever since the nation achieved independence from its colonizers. As Antipolo Auxiliary Bishop Francisco de Leon said, the P20 minimum wage increase (so as the transport fee increase) is better than nothing.

But wage and transport fee hikes are just temporary measures to at least maintain the status quo of the purchasing power of Filipinos. If no follow-up efforts are to be made, these actions could even push Filipinos further into poverty. Asian Development Bank has already announced last May 18 that Filipinos are getting poorer, which can make Madam President’s popularity to plummet further.

In spite all of the hiking that she approved, Madam Gloria still has a very tall order in front of her.


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