Freeze prices amid disaster, Aquino told

“For humanitarian consideration, it is appropriate that the government restrain all price hikes at this point.” — Anakpawis

By MARYA SALAMAT
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – Heavy rains and massive flooding this week have forced millions in Luzon to suspend their activities and help one another. But for the deregulated and privatized oil companies and public utilities, even disasters have failed to stay their hands in imposing price hikes.

Shell and Petron increased this week its gasoline by P0.80 ($0.019) per liter, diesel by P0.40 ($0.0096) per liter, and kerosene by P0.30 ($0.0072)per liter. Total raised their gas price by P0.80 ($0.019) per liter, and diesel by P0.40 ($0.0096) per liter.

Meanwhile, Manila Electric Company (Meralco), the country’s largest distributor of electricity, raised power charges by P28 ($0.6702) for consumers using 100 kWh and P56 ($1.3404) for those using 200kWh. Consumers consuming 300kWh and 400 kWh monthly will shell out P84 ($2.0105) and P112 ($2.6807) respectively starting this month.

“In the midst of tragedy due to the heavy rains that caused massive flooding all over Luzon, the opportunistic, greedy and heartless owners of Petron and Meralco strive to squeeze more profit especially among the victims of massive flooding. The victims have already lost their homes and some have even lost their loved ones��� They deserve help, not higher prices,” said Rodel Mesa, secretary general of Unyon ng Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (Uma).

“Instead of helping flood victims by way of suspension or moratorium of price hike and services, raising profits remain to be the prime interest of these big companies,” Mesa said. His group pressed the Aquino government to call for the suspension of all utility charges and oil price hikes in flood-stricken areas in Luzon and in the Vizayas.

Disasters upon disasters

It is bad enough that many Filipinos are rendered more vulnerable to disasters as a result of conscious negligence and environmental policies itself by the government. As heavy rains resulted to unprecedented flooding and put the lives and livelihoods of Filipinos in danger, various reports also showed the apparent lack in rescue equipment and readiness of most villages, including those already tagged as flood-prone.

Aquino and local government officials, including other media anchors, also blamed some Filipinos for placing themselves in the path of danger, even if reports also recounted that the people were there for lack of choice. In the case of a flooded village in San Mateo, Rizal, the residents are there because the government itself relocated them there. The residents said they were not forewarned that it is in the path of rampaging floodwaters.

Television reports also documented how the people themselves have to rely on each other’s help, and on their own ingenuity. They crafted water vessels from discarded containers, refrigerator, and airbeds. While rain-soaked Filipinos were already quaking in fear of rising floodwaters atop their roofs, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino was only then telling the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) to conduct an inventory of government’s rescue equipment.

But as it turned out, the Aquino government has little rescue equipment because the administration has reportedly vetoed many proposals on disaster-preparedness, including projects that would have mitigated flooding. On the ground, or on the flooded streets, rescuers were thus forced to borrow rubber boats that easily get punctured by wires or steel roof.

And now, as Filipinos continue to play a dangerous guessing game on whether they can now return to their house or not, or whether it will continue to rain and flood as much, the Aquino government, said critics, have failed as well to protect them from high prices.

Suspend price hikes, not just classes and work

Various groups have pressed Aquino since last week to urge the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to impose a price freeze on petroleum products and other basic commodities.

“Now that the country is facing such a disaster, the Aquino administration should implement a price freeze on all commodities especially basic goods and oil products among others. At one point, this will give the aid that our kababayans need while evacuating their homes or enduring the storm,” said Dianne Solmayor, spokeswoman of Anakbayan in National Capital Region.

“Emergency response is expected from the government; a price freeze is urgent and necessary,” Fernando Hicap, vice-chairman of Anakpawis, said in a statement. Like other leaders of progressive organizations, Hicap called the power and oil firms that hiked their prices this week as “greedy and heartless.”

Anakpawis Rep. Rafael Mariano had delivered a privilege speech in Congress a week ago, when it was just typhoon Gener that had afflicted the Philippines. He had called for price rollback of basic commodities and utilities even then. This week, when the country was lashed further by rains brought about by a southwest monsoon, Mariano again urged: “For humanitarian consideration, it is appropriate that the government restrain all price hikes at this point.” But more than freezing prices, he also urged for an oil price roll back. ()

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