While the government bears down on small businesses and producers, warning them against profiteering in the wake of typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng, it has allowed Shell, Caltex and Petron to increase oil prices at will.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA — Supermarkets and market vendors are fair game for government price controls. They get visited by the Department of Trade and Industry. They get strict warnings against profiteering.
The government extracts “pogi points” from preening before cameras while bullying small producers to sell their products at the government-dictated prices, said Steve Ranjo, chairman of Piston (United Associations of Drivers and Operators Nationwide).
But oil products, the items that significantly affect the prices of most products, are apparently off-limits to price controls even during times of severe calamity, even after the oil cartel composed of the Big Three – Shell, Petron and Caltex – have been criticized for their questionable price increases in the past.
While the country is still reeling from the devastation wrought by typhoons, floodings and landslides, the Big Three jacked up their prices last Oct. 20 by as much as P2 per liter of diesel, bringing to P2.25 the total price increases in diesel this month alone — the biggest increase in the price of diesel this year.
The cartel also raised by P1.25 per liter the price of gasoline and by P1.50 per liter the price of kerosene.
“This is not only anti-poor and anti-small entrepreneurs,” Ranjo said. “It also smacks of extreme greed and insensitivity.”
Ranjo asked: Why is the government picking on smaller businesses and producers, pressuring them to submit to price controls, while the Big Three oil companies are free to jack up their prices?
According to Ranjo, the Arroyo government’s apparent bias against small businesses and producers while giving the oil cartel a free hand is consistent with its policy of forcing public-utility drivers and commuters to bear the greed of oil companies. “They don’t hesitate in making us shoulder much of the burden of the oil price increases,” he said.
Members of Piston denouncing oil-price hikes and demanding the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law that has allowed the oil cartel to do whatever it want. (Photo by Angelica de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Imposing staggering price increases while the country is still reeling from the devastation of recent typhoons shows you just how “heartless and shameless the Big Three oil companies are,” said Elmer Labog, chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno, the country’s largest labor federation.
According to Labog, the Big Three’s excuse — that they are merely adjusting prices according to fluctuations in the international petroleum market — has been “their standard excuse for years.”
This excuse has obviously enabled the Big Three to reap high profits over the years, Labog said. They are “swimming in revenues and profits” in the Philippines while their parent companies are also constantly ranking high in Fortune’s Global 500 list of most profitable corporations.
Against the Wind
“While the Filipino workers and people are in the spirit of giving and helping each other because of the recent calamity, the Big Three Oil Companies are possessed by the evil spirit of taking much from ordinary people and pocketing huge and immoral profits,” Labog said.
Once again, the price hikes have exposed the inutility of the Department of Enery Secretary Angelo Reyes, Ranjo of Piston pointed out. Even House Speaker Prospero Nograles was forced to comment that the energy secretary could have at least called the oil companies and asked them for “compassion.”
“The Big Three could have at least sacrificed some of their huge profits while we’re still buried in the aftermath of many disasters,” Ranjo said.
George San Mateo, secretary-general of Piston, urged President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step in and stop the oil cartel “More than calling on supermarket and small producers to implement price controls, she should stop these increases in oil prices,” he said.
San Mateo called on Filipinos to conduct noise barrage or support the noise barrage Piston will hold in busy thoroughfares in the coming days to protest the Big Three’s “overweening greed.” On Oct 24, Piston said it will hold a noise barrage in Cubao at 12 noon.
Piston leaders explained that they believe the relatively small producers in the country could better implement the price controls imposed by the government if the prices of oil are also being controlled and if the government is also actively bearing down on the oil companies’ excessive profiteering. (Bulatlat.com)