Cebuanos Unite vs Oil Price Hikes

Last Thursday, Aug, 21, 500 Cebuanos marched to the Department of Energy (DoE) Visayas Field Office to denounce the rampant increase in oil price since Republic Act No. 8479 or the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law, which took effect in July 1998. In a press conference at the Visayas Community Hospital early last week, the Coalition Against Oil Price Increase (CAOPI) revealed that they have already gathered 5,000 signatures for their petition urging the Philippine Congress to remove the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and to scrap the Oil Deregulation Law.

BY RITCHE T. SALGADO
Contributed to Bulatlat.com
Vol. VIII, No. 29, August 24-30, 2008

Twenty years ago, Evangeline Montes, 44, could fill her two square meter stall at the Ramos Public Market with fresh produce with only P500 ($23.70 at the 1988 average exchange rate of $1:P21.10) for capital. Back then, gasoline was a little less than P9.00 ($0.43) per liter. Now she complains, that even with P4,000 ($87.62 at the Aug. 22 exchange rate of $1:P45.65) she could barely fill her stall.

Taas na gyud ang gasolina. Lisod na ang panahon. Tinuod man gamay ra ang puhonan sa mga mag-uuma kay pertilayser lang man ilang gastuhan, pero moingon man pud sila nga dili pud nila madala ilang mga utanon kung dili sila mopliti,” (Gasoline has become so expensive. The times are difficult. It is true that the production capital of farmers is too little but they spend only on fertilizers. But they would also claim that they could not bring their produce to the market if they don’t spend for transport) Evangeline lamented.

Evangeline is not alone in her sentiments. Last Thursday, Aug, 21, 500 Cebuanos marched to the Department of Energy (DoE) Visayas Field Office to denounce the rampant increase in oil prices since Republic Act No. 8479 or the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law took effect in July 1998.

In a press conference at the Visayas Community Hospital early last week, the Coalition Against Oil Price Increases (CAOPI) revealed that they have already gathered 5,000 signatures for their petition urging the Philippine Congress to remove the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and to scrap the Oil Deregulation Law.

Sr. Guadalupe Valdez, OSB of St. Scholastica’s College (Tabunok, Talisay, Cebu) said that the uncontrolled increase in oil prices has driven the prices of basic commodities up. This, she said, consequently has sunk the poor to a more depressing condition. “The poor, who has a hand-to-mouth existence, are becoming poorer. Sadly the P73-80 billion ($1,599,123,767 to $1,752,464,403 at an exchange rate of $1=P45.65) collected through VAT don’t go to them,” she said, adding that for this reason the imposition of additional taxes on petroleum products do not serve its purpose and as such should be removed.

Atty. Victor Biaño, councilor of Mandaue City, said that the city council of Mandaue unanimously approved a resolution asking for the scrapping of the Oil Deregulation Law and the VAT on petroleum products. “Already we have submitted the resolution to the House of Representatives and we hope that others will follow,” he said.

“We urge our lawmakers to see the need for the abolition of the Oil Deregulation Law,” he reiterated.

Biaño admitted that at present the scrapping of the VAT imposition on petroleum products may seem impossible. “What may be possible at the moment is a seven percent reduction on the VAT. Kay cash cow man ni para makacollect ug kuwarta para sa gobyerno (The VAT is a cash cow which the government is using to increase its collection),” he said.

However, Biaño also pointed out that the government does not need the VAT to fulfill its debt obligations. He said that the government is capable of paying its foreign debt since the country has enough resources. “Sobra lang ang (There is just too much) corruption in all levels,” he said. “We have to solve this first.”

Ang tan-awon nato is kung unsa ang angayan nga buhaton that will have the least (negative) effect on all sectors” (We need to look into possible solutions that will have the least effect on all sectors), he added.

In a dialogue that followed the march, DoE regional director Antonio Labios admitted that the department is powerless over the spate of increases in oil prices. Defending the increases, Labios pointed out that since the Philippines consumes less than 1 percent of the world oil demand it cannot influence the price at the world market.

CAOPI however maintained that despite the high price of oil in the world market, local oil companies still maintain large profits estimated at P31($0.679) per liter. The group believes that this is a form of social injustice reasoning that for every 10 percent increase of fuel price “an additional 160,000 Filipinos become poor.”

In 2007 oil companies posted large profits with Pilipinas Shell at P4.12 billion ($89.27 million at the 2007 average exchange rate of $1:P46.15) , Chevron Philippines at P2.75 ($59.59 million) billion and Petron at P658 million ($1.43 million).

Democrito Barcenas, former president of the Cebu chapter of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP-Cebu), urged Cebuanos to unite. He however admitted that owing to the forbearing nature of Filipinos, many are still complacent in addressing the issue. But he is optimistic that the Filipino people, including Cebuanos, would soon see the need to gather in order to come up with a more concrete solution to the crisis.

Biaño agreed that the complacency of the Cebuanos may contribute to the oil companies’ audacity to increase their prices without considering its effect on the people. He admitted that the group is not expecting the government or oil companies to listen to their complaints and suggestions, but he said that acting on the matter is important, no matter how futile, “It’s better than not doing anything at all.”

“At least nga sa panahon sa akong mga anak dili sila makasulti nga wala ko’y gibuhat kung inkaso man mas mograbe pa ang atong kahimtang” (At least my children would not say that I did not do anything to solve the problem in case the situation worsens during their time),” Biaño said. Contributed to (Bulatlat.com)

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