“If the House can fast track the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, I’m sure we can also fast track the various measures that would halt the incessant oil price hikes and possibly even reduce prices of oil and petroleum products.” – Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In the aftermath of what consumers describe as “heartless” oil price hikes last Valentine’s Day, progressive lawmakers in Congress urged for a fast-tracked deliberation of their pending oil regulation bill, coupled with a suspension of price hikes while a six-month audit of the firms’ books by an independent review committee is ongoing.
“If the House can fast track the impeachment of Chief Justice Corona, I’m sure we can also fast track the various measures that would halt the incessant oil price hikes and possibly even reduce prices of oil and petroleum products,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño.
The progressive bloc’s House Bill 4355 is seeking to scrap the oil deregulation law and regulate the downstream oil industry. This bill is touted to address the problems created by the deregulation of the industry, problems which will not be addressed by a mere audit assuming the oil companies’ books were opened. According to Casiño, “Such an audit process should be institutionalized and done automatically every time oil prices are adjusted, through an agency tasked to regulate prices. This is precisely the mechanism we are proposing in House Bill 4355.”
HB 4355 also provides for the buy-back of Petron, the centralized procurement of the country’s oil supplies, and the establishment of a strictly administered price buffer fund.
“To immediately address the rise in prices this month, we in Bayan Muna have likewise filed HB 2719 to remove the VAT on oil. I hope the House acts quickly to pass our two measures so that we would not be held hostage by these companies,” said Casiño.
Transport strike wanted
“It is high time now for the poor public utility drivers to launch a transport strike,” said the urban poor group Kalipunan ng Damayang Mahihirap or Kadamay. Many drivers are residing in the country’s urban poor communities.
This week, members of the transport group Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) and the multi-sectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makbayan (BAYAN) protested against oil price increases in front of a station of the leading oil firm, Petron, in Quezon City. The KMU (Kilusang Mayo Uno) has also urged the public to participate in their slated protest actions against oil price hikes this coming March.
Oil firms hiked the pump prices of diesel and kerosene by 85 centavos per liter, and unleaded and regular gasoline by 50 centavos on Valentine’s Day, following increases implemented in the past week.
Since the start of the year, oil firms have implemented six rounds of oil price hikes, compared to only two rounds of price rollbacks, noted the group Bayan as it urged consumers to support the protest actions planned for the coming weeks. Bayan and transport groups such as Piston have been pressing Congress to act on the pending bills to repeal the Oil Deregulation Law and the VAT on oil.
But if President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III would be too slow in acting on such proposed measures to mitigate poverty, the urban poor group Kadamay urges all transport groups in the country to unite and conduct transport strikes against the oil price hikes, since they are the groups that are most severely affected by every oil price hike.
Repeat the Sept 19 transport strike
Kadamay asked the transport groups in the country to repeat the transport strike it conducted last Sept 19, which had paralyzed transport in many parts of the country at the time. The Aquino government responded by militarizing urban streets, and threatening drivers and operators that with franchise cancellation , even as it dangled promises of aid to some transport leaders.
Kadamay also urged the transport groups who had cancelled their planned participation in the said strike after President Aquino promised them some things that now is the time to start uniting again with progressive transport groups.
“The nearly five months that elapsed since Aquino promised aid to transport groups in a counter-strike dialogue last Sept is enough time for his administration to have acted on it,” said Francis Esponilla, one of the spokesmen of Kadamay. “The continuous price hikes has only proved that Aquino has no plans to stop the greed for profits of foreign oil companies, or to investigate the oil cartel’s schemes,” added Esponilla.
Since that dialogue with transport groups in Malacañang, prices of diesel and gasoline have been jacked up 13 times in the local market, Kadamay noted. Since Aquino became president, prices of diesel have increased by P13.69 ($0.32) per liter, gasoline by P13.93 ($0.33) per liter.
Until now, nothing substantial has come out of President Aquino’s promises to review the Oil Deregulation Law and investigate the oil overpricing scheme of the oil cartel, the urban poor group said. To show support to drivers, members of the urban poor group are visiting transport terminals and distributing written statements to drivers and passengers. They are urging them to unite in holding a transport strike.
Drivers reportedly lose P210 ($4.91) per working day for every peso increase in oil prices. But it is not just the drivers who lose big time in oil price hikes, said Esponilla, as he cited the corresponding increases in prices of basic goods that usually follow every oil price hike.
“As the price of oil surges on a weekly basis, how can ordinary consumers cope up with the subsequent price hikes on basic commodities, especially food?” asked Gloria Arellano, Kadamay national secretary-general. “Every cent increase in the price of oil has great significance on millions of Filipino small farmers, drivers, urban poor and the rest of the toiling masses,” she added.
Arellano also urged the energy department to stop acting as the spokesperson for the oil companies, and Energy Secretary Jose Rene D. Almendras to stop being the “cartel’s paid employee whose task is to make sure every oil price hike will reach the public smoothly with the proper consent from the government.”
The urban poor group has also started hanging mini-streamers and giving out flaglets to drivers. Progressive groups vowed to intensify protest actions in the coming weeks to press the Congress to act on the pending legislation to repeal the Oil Deregulation Law and VAT on oil.