Most Filipino workers, especially those in the informal sector, live on low-paying insecure jobs. So as food prices go up and wages remain low, more Filipino working-class families are unable to meet basic food needs.

Official government figures corroborate this statement. The 2022 Family Income and Expenditure Survey by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) shows that about three in five (58.4%) among those in the low-income class are most vulnerable to the twin problems of falling income and rising food prices.

What does this mean for the Filipino working-class family?

Most Filipino households did not achieve the 100% estimated average requirement (EAR) in energy, according to the 2018-2019 Philippine Nutrition Facts and Figures of the Department of Science and Technology-Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI).

Rural households were slightly better off than their urban counterparts, as 23.1% in rural and 20% in urban met the 100% EAR in energy. Only about 3 in 50 (5.8%) met the requirements for iron and vitamin A; only 12.4% for calcium; only 16% for vitamin C.

(Remember: Iron is needed for growth and development; vitamin A for normal vision, the immune system, reproduction, and growth and development; calcium is needed for muscles to move and for nerves to carry messages between the brain and every part of the body; and vitamin c is crucial in the healing process.)

By age group, less than 1 in 5 (18.4%) of infants and preschool-age children met the daily recommended energy intake (REI). A high prevalence of vitamin B3 inadequacy was observed among children aged 6 to 11 months, and 1 to 2 years old, and also for vitamin B1 (57.1%), vitamin B2 (60.0%), vitamin A (68.2%), and iron (86.6%).

(Remember: Vitamins B1, B2, and B3 help the body produce energy.)

Inadequacy in vitamin C among Filipino school-age children is staggering, with over 90% not meeting the daily requirement. The same go for vitamin B1 (94.9%), vitamin B2 (75.4%), vitamin A (76.7%), iron (97.1%), and calcium (93.3%).

Photo by Frank Lloyd de la Cruz on Unsplash

The problem persists as children grow older. Only 9.1% of adolescents, said the report, met the daily REI.

For pregnant women, only 15.1% have met the daily REI. About 1 in every 5 (or 17.2%) pregnant women met the EAR for protein.

But the link is more than that as extreme poverty and bad policies make life more unbearable for most Filipinos. In short and in fact, malnutrition kills.

According to the UNICEF, malnutrition kills 95 Filipino children every day. Twenty-seven out of 1,000 babies and toddlers do not get past their fifth birthday.

What about the adults in the family? Do the surviving adults fare better? Unfortunately, adults have the highest prevalence of nutrients and vitamins inadequacy. Only 15.2% of elderly met the daily REI.

Yet, the PSA in 2021 estimated that the average food threshold was at P8,000 per month or 66% of the P12,000 poverty threshold. The Philippine government is effectively saying that a Filipino family of five can live on P266 per day, P89 per meal, or P18 per head.

But the social cost of food deprivation is not only immediate but far-reaching. From capitalism’s perspective, if this gross malnutrition (due to high food prices and low wages) continues among the working class, capitalism won’t be able to reproduce the next generation of workers it needs to survive.

It’s not too much, therefore, to declare that the prevailing economic and political system in the country punishes the working class even more when it deprives them of the most basic and most essential need to sustain life: food.

Over the past several months, as food prices soared, the Filipino working-class family has lost at least P89 to inflation. In real terms, it means workers have also been losing three individual meals per day while lavish parties and fashion shows are served regularly in Malacañang.

Wilson Fortaleza is a fellow at Center for Power Issues and Initiatives (CPII), and LEARN. He is also the deputy secretary general of Partido ng Manggagawa (PM).