MANILA -- At daybreak in one of the capital's wet markets, vendor Giselle Atienza stacks galunggong or round scad at her stall, waiting for regular customers who are willing to pay for the fish staple, which is now as expensive as chicken.
Fish inflation is outpacing other commodities, with supply hampered by the monsoon season, and as consumers grapple with price spikes not seen in nearly a decade.
In Metro Manila, the price of round scad jumped by P10 per kilo in the third week of June and has since held at P160, according to weekly data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA). Prices of beef and pork were largely unchanged.
Galunggong prices rose by P50 to P180 per kilo in Cebu City in the third week of July. In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, it went as high as P200 per kilo, PSA data showed.
Fish prices rose 12.3 percent in April, double the pace of spikes in meat and nearly twice as fast as upticks in fruits, PSA data show.
"Mahal na ang galunggong dahil sa mga bagyo," 20-year-old Atienza told ABS-CBN News. "Bumibili pa din, pero yung iba, per piece na lang."
(Galunggong has become more expensive because of recent storms. Customers still buy, but some buy per piece.)
Fried crispy or topped with fried eggs and tomatoes, galunggong is a Filipino pantry staple alongside bangus (milk fish) and tilapia. In the 1980s, the then President Corazon Aquino used it as a benchmark of purchasing power.
Beside Atienza's stall, 42-year-old mother of 2 Annie Bohol sells bangus in bulk. She said milkfish prices had gone up to P150 per kilo from P120. In the last week of August, bangus prices in the capital rose P20 to P160, according to the PSA.
Atienza said she was forced to cut margins to P2 per kilo from P5 to keep customers.
"Nagtitipid na lang kami hangga't kaya. Kakain na lang sa bahay hindi na sa labas," she told ABS-CBN News.
(We try to save as much money as we can. Instead of fast-food, we just eat at home)," he said.
A 3-month-long "closed season" for fishing in the south and successive storms have hampered galunggong production, said Undersecretary Eduardo Gongona, director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.
"Peak season sana ngayon hanggang September pero nagkaroon ng habagat at ulan, naantala ang local production," he told DZMM. Imports will be temporary, he said.
(It should have been peak season, until September, but the monsoon rains interrupted local production.)
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol has pushed for more galunggong imports to help bring prices down. He blamed market speculation, not higher fuel prices under tax reform, for rising commodity prices.
Senator Cynthia Villar said the government should cap galunggong prices instead and promote bangus and tilapia as alternatives.
"We should work for long-term solutions that will make us self-sufficient and competitive," she said.
INFLATION AT RECORD LEVELS
Inflation likely accelerated to 5.9 percent in August from 5.7 percent in July, according to the median of a Bloomberg poll of economists. At least 2 analysts told ABS-CBN News that it could reach 6 percent. Official data will be released on Sept. 5.
Consumer prices last rose more than 6 percent year-on-year in March 2009, when inflation hit 6.6 percent, according to ABS-CBN Data Analytics, using PSA numbers with 2012 prices as base.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla told ANC on Aug. 24 that inflation would likely peak in August or September and it was his "expectation" that it would not reach 6 percent.
But while regulators are hoping inflation would taper off by the end of the year, Bohol the bangus dealer said she was betting on prices staying at current levels with the Christmas season approaching.
"'Ber months na, tumataas talaga presyo kasi tumataas demand," she said.
(The ber months are here and prices are rising with demand.)