By MARYA SALAMAT
First, the good news: “Once again, we saw affirmation of the power of the Filipinos’ collective rumblings, expressions of disgust and building protests— when Malacañang had to come up with Executive Order 839 that practically asked the oil cartel to lick a little, just a little, of its greed for the time being,” Steve Ranjo, chair of PISTON (United Associations of Drivers and Operators Nationwide), told Bulatlat.
Metro Manila drivers’ associations welcomed the freeze or control in oil prices mandated by Executive Order 839. “It gives people immediate relief,” said Ranjo. And relief is exactly what the Filipino people have been needing for who knows how long.
Despite the executive order’s many loopholes, not least of which are its transience and limited coverage, Piston still considered it a small victory for all who protested the oil companies’ biggest single increases in prices of oil products last Oct 20.
“It should inspire us to continue battling the greed of the oil cartel and the apparent servility to it of the Arroyo administration particularly of its energy department,” Ranjo said.
Now, the bad news: with the executive order, the Arroyo administration is largely just trying to earn pogi points as its corruption and ineptness have been drawing the people’s ire in the successive typhoons that battered the country. If or when this fury slightly ebbs, or when Arroyo deems the EO can already be lifted, “the Big 3 are threatening to raise their prices again,” said Piston.
When that happens, Piston urges their fellow drivers and the Filipino people in general to be ready. “The increases are in the unprecedented regions of P3.50 ($0.07 at an exchange rate of $1=P47.69) at least for every oil product. That’s what the oil companies are threatening us with right now,” said Ranjo.
“Why did Arroyo focus on typhoons alone as the only sort of calamity that prompted the imposition of oil price control?” drivers asked.
Outside Luzon people are also reeling from just as deadly and costly devastations wrought not by tropical storms but by other calamities. In Mindanao, there are also hundreds of thousands of evacuees and people rendered homeless as a result of war and militarization. In Visayas as in other parts of the Philippines, many are reeling from the continuous fallout of the global economic crisis.
“Filipinos from all parts of the Philippine islands are suffering from different yet just as traumatic calamities, why not let them all have reprieve from the Big 3’s “greed? Every Filipino needs relief now, it is unfair to exclude fellow Filipinos in Visayas and Mindanao, especially since even before EO839 they are already being victimized more by the Big 3’s overpricing,” Ranjo said.
Still Unchecked Profiteering, Oil Price Gaps
According to Piston, in coming out with EO 839 Arroyo has apparently been forced to try to appease the Filipinos’ severe need for economic relief. Thus it has instituted price control of basic goods in markets to discourage overpricing. But Arroyo failed to dodge the people’s fury at her ineptness and pass it on to the small producers because the oil companies had chosen a bad time to impose the biggest increases in oil prices this year.
Now foreign businessmen and their partner big businesses in the country are asking Malacañang to announce immediately the end date of the validity of the executive order (EO) capping the prices of petroleum products in Luzon. According to George San Mateo, secretary-general of Piston, the “unhealthy business climate” these businesses are complaining about with the oil price control doesn’t really refer to their “supposed selling at a loss.”
“Everybody now knows, except energy secretary Angelo Reyes, that oil companies are overpricing their products by P5 to P8 ($0.10 to $0.167) per liter,” said San Mateo. Prior to EO 839, the oil companies, the progressive driver’ organizations and former director-general of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) Ralph Recto have been tussling in a Manila trial court over the exact amount and manner by which the overpricing is being done.
“On top of these usual overpricing, the pricing is worse in the Visayas and Mindanao,” Ranjo told Bulatlat. Pending the transport group’s completion of a survey of oil prices nationwide, Ranjo said that not all parts of Luzon are complying with the EO 839. “When we passed by Mindoro recently, diesel goes for P37 ($0.775) a liter there when in Manila it is P28 ($0.587) a liter.”
Also, even before Ondoy struck, there is already a wide disparity between oil prices in Manila and in Visayas and Mindanao.
When diesel was P30 ($0.629) in Manila, it sells for P35 ($0.73) in most cities in the Visayas. With the P2 ($0.04) rollback in the price of diesel in Manila, the gap between diesel sold in Manila and sold in Iloilo, for instance, went from P5 to P7 ($0.10 to $0.146), said Piston. And with the oil companies keen on increasing prices in Visayas and Mindanao, the additional overprice there will be “about P9 ($0.188) higher than in Metro Manila.”
As such, in Negros Occidental, “We are calling for uniform oil prices nationwide,” said Jesse Ortega, secretary general of the United Negros Drivers Operators Center (UNDOC). Undoc joined Piston in demanding a nationwide freeze in fuel prices.
Piston expects more drivers’ associations in the Visayas and Mindanao to ask not only for oil price freeze but oil price rollback.
These price differences and massive overpricing have not been concretely addressed yet, and already, “the big foreign businesses represented by the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce in the Philippines are chafing at the limited leash of EO 839. They hate to see their freedom to rake super profits being reined in. They’re fiercely defending the Oil Deregulation Law,” said Ranjo.
“We hope the people’s organizations including all drivers associations and most Filipinos would continue to pressure Arroyo to curb the greed of these oil companies,” Piston said in a statement. (Bulatlat.com)