Philippine Bishop on onion prices and Marcos’s economy

The staple food has become too costly for many pockets. Bishop Alminaza, head of the Church People-Workers Solidarity organisation, reflects on the gap between economic growth data boasted by the Philippine government and the actual cost of living for the poorest people. He bemoans the fact that, “Worker migration because of unemployment here in the Philippines is accepted as a fact of life, because – again – this is not their economy.” And because of this, many farmers kill themselves.


Manila (AsiaNews) – While President Marcos Jr might praise the performance of the Philippine economy, a humble staple in the country’s food basket, onions, has become a luxury item for many people, as its price soared higher than that of meat.

The vegetable, which has become a symbol of the country’s precarious situation, has provided Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, head of the Church People-Workers Solidarity (CWS), with an opportunity to reflect upon the country’s economy of exclusion in a piece posted on the Bishops' Conference’s site.

Bishop Alminaza writes: “Last January 13, Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno reported that the Philippine economy grew by 7.5% in 2022, and is expected to grow by 6.5% this 2023, a projection touted by President Marcos during the World Economic Forum just this week.

“Similarly, this week, the price of a kilogram of onions reached 800 pesos. While the increase in the commodity’s price seems comical, its implications are not. Several farmers have already expressed frustration over their losses despite the increase in onion prices, with at least five farmers reportedly killing themselves because of it. The same farmers express concern over the plans to import more onions [from] outside the country in order to decrease onion prices, even as reports of smugglers and hoarders in the onion trade have abounded.”

For the prelate, “Onions are just among the many basic commodities whose prices have soared in the past few months. Just last month, economists noted that inflation rose to more than 8%, the highest it has been for 14 years. “By this week, diesel will have seen a 0.50 peso-per-liter increase while gas will also increase by 0.95 peso-per-liter. Because of this level of inflation, while economic experts from Mercer forecast an increase of 5.5% in employee salaries this year, they also admit that no real wage increase will be happening.”

Citing data from Oxfam’s inequality report indicating that the nine richest Filipinos own more wealth than 55 million people, half of the entire Philippine population, the bishop asks: “What does it say about our society when we celebrate economic growth when we know that life is getting harder for our impoverished neighbors? What does it mean when the rich not only get richer, but are most profitable during times of crisis, such that their riches lessen as the rest of society recovers? The answer is simple: that Pope Francis was right. We are living in an economy of exclusion.”

While “we can positively describe the economy as ‘growing’ despite the poor finding it harder and harder to afford basic necessities”, this means “that we have accepted that ultimately, the economy isn’t for them.” Hence, “Worker migration because of unemployment here in the Philippines is accepted as a fact of life, because – again – this is not their economy. Farmers killing themselves?”

For Bishop Alminaza there is only one way to change this state of affairs: inclusion. “We include people by listening to them. We include people by respecting them. We include people by understanding their sentiments and admitting that while things may be going okay for us, it may not be as okay for them.”

In Davos, President Marcos “praised Filipino workers for being ‘young’”, for having “few dependents’ as well as [being ] ‘well-trained and sophisticated.’ As with the previous administrations, our workforce has become quite the enticing bargaining chip for investors looking to outsource jobs or employ [people] from overseas. But without ensuring that workers’ economic well-being, rights, and dignity in the workplace are ensured, Filipino workers still remain excluded from the actual economy except as products to be exported and exploited.”

The Global Rights Index ranks the Philippines among the 10 worst countries for workers over the past six years; indeed, trade unionists and workers' rights advocates are often threatened and killed to prevent them from organising.

The “Center for Trade Union and Human Rights (CTUHR) has documented 56 victims of killings among workers, unionists and labor rights defenders,” the prelate writes. About “27 unionists and labor organizers also remain in detention for trumped-up cases and planted evidence.” In this sense, “the Pope is right when he says that this economy of exclusion kills.”

Yet, not all is lost for “there are always opportunities for the plight of those excluded to be heard. And it is our duty as Christians to carry the cross”. In fact, presently, “leaders from different Christian denominations, orders, and sects came together to express solidarity with Filipino workers so that their qualms and concerns will be heard during the ILO (International Labour Organization) visit in a week of prayer and unity.”

For Bishop Alminaza, “by lending our collective voices to the cause of workers, we can have a more inclusive economy that boasts not just of ‘young’, ‘well-trained’ workers, but workers enjoying a life of dignity, sufficiency, security and justice.”