Bicol inflation: Peñafrancia devotees feel price squeeze
NAGA CITY—Forget the mouth-watering “caldereta” (beef stew), “pata tim” (stewed pig knuckles) and “menudo” (pork dish).
The hordes of guests descending on this city for the colorful Peñafrancia Festival won’t be enjoying the usual gastronomic feast in some homes this time, no thanks to the 9-percent inflation rate in Bicol in August.
Soaring prices of basic goods have forced some residents to scrimp, plan a modest celebration, or skip the tradition of feasting altogether.
Raquel Obias said her family had decided not to prepare food for guests this year as Naga and the rest of Bicol reeled from the rising prices of meat, rice and other commodities.
“We would always prepare food during the fiesta, all meat recipes such as caldereta, patatim and menudo, but that would be impractical to do now because of [the high prices],” said Obias, 27. “I could not believe the prices at the grocery stores today.”
“My family would always bond over food and it’s hard that we have to adjust. It’s quite frustrating that something as basic as food is very difficult to have nowadays,” she added.
Last week, the government announced a nationwide inflation rate of 6.4 percent year-on-year, but Bicol recorded the highest at 9 percent.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, however, disagreed with the statement of the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) that the region’s inflation rate should not be a cause for alarm.
“The 9-percent inflation rate is a cause for alarm since it is the highest in the country, and Bicol is the fourth poorest region in the Philippines,” Salceda said in a Facebook post.
Thousands of people are pouring into Naga and packing churches to celebrate more than 300 years of devotion to Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Bicol’s miraculous patroness.
The feast began on Sept. 7 and will culminate in a fluvial procession on Naga River on Friday.
Eugene Villaflor’s family is not totally shunning the feast but is cutting down on purchases and preparing only simple dishes.
“Usually, we buy 5 kilos (of meat) per ‘putahe’ (dish), now we are buying only 3 (kilos),” said Villaflor, a government employee.
Monet San Jose, 29, shared the same sentiment. Her family will be serving less food on the table compared to past celebrations.
“What’s important is our faith in God and Ina (the local name for the Bicol patroness, which means mother),” San Jose said. “We will still do our ‘panata’ (devotion) to her but with less food.”
Costly catering services
Caterers have also jacked up the prices of their packages.
“Our prices always depend on market prices, which is why we also raised our prices,” said Jeremy Villaseñor, who runs a catering business.
Neda officials have brushed off Bicolanos’ fears about the impact of inflation, saying that the prices of commodities in the region were still much lower than those in Metro Manila.
Salceda said inflation would be an “existential threat” to development since it would increase the number of poor people and worsen hunger, resulting in malnutrition of youngsters.
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