By BENJIE OLIVEROS
There seems to be no relief from oil price increases. The price of oil per barrel in the world market has breached the $100 mark ending at $105.44 for light, sweet, crude at the New York Mercantlie Exchange and $115 for Brent North Sea oil at the ICE Futures this March 9. Locally, pump prices have increased by another P2 after increasing by the same amount just last week. This would trigger another round of price increases of basic commodities and utilities because of its impact on production and transport costs. Likewise, we could expect another round of fare increases, and this might be used as a justification for pushing through with the highly unpopular plan to increase the fare of the Metro Rail Transit and the Light Rail Transit lines 1 and 2.
And there is still no end in sight to the increases. Take note that the spike in the price of oil is not the result of supply problems but of “worries” that supplies might be affected because of the worsening conflicts in North Africa and the Middle East. In other words, the oil price spikes are being caused by speculation. And for as long as the conflict in North Africa and the Middle East persists and spreads in different countries, speculators and oil companies would have a heyday in reaping a lot of profits. This is profiteering at the expense of majority of the peoples of the world.
Also a beneficiary to this profiteering is the Aquino administration. Since the Expanded Value Added Tax (EVat) on oil products is pegged at 12 percent, any increase in the price of pump prices translates into more revenues for the government. But again, this is at the expense of the Filipino people who are already suffering from the runaway prices of basic goods, services and utilities.
To add insult to injury, the Aquino government seems to be lending a deaf ear to the calls of the people for immediate relief. The Aquino government could do something about it, and there are already a lot of suggestions on how to go about it, but it still refuses to do so. It ignores the call for removing the EVat on oil products, the demand for the government to intervene and control oil prices, and the suggestion regarding bulk importation. And of course, there is the long-term call to nationalize the oil industry, including the exploration and processing of oil and natural gas resources discovered in Palawan, the Sulu sea, and other places. On the other hand, to help the people cope with the recent price increases, there is the demand for a substantial wage increase for workers and government employees.
Government spokespersons are saying that this would scare away oil companies and other investors. However, it should take note that oil companies are reaping a lot of profits from doing business in the country and getting a mere slice from its huge profits would not scare them away. They would lose more from not doing business in the country. In fact, in California, the pump price of gasoline is $3.55 a gallon equivalent to P40.52 a liter. That is P13 cheaper than here in the Philippines!
It seems that the Aquino government would rather let the Filipino people suffer than lean on oil companies to “moderate their greed.” It is more scared of facing the wrath of the IMF-WB than the Filipino people. Perhaps, it is banking on its popularity and relying on its apologists-allies who are already in government but still stake their claim to being part of civil society.
But the Aquino government should remember that the rising popularity of the previous Ramos administration dipped when the 1997 financial crisis hit the country hard and it did not do anything about it, except claim that the problem was international in nature. The former Estrada administration’s flaunting of its profligacy and gallivanting ways became intolerable to the Filipino people when it was in stark contrast to the hardships the people were experiencing then. Before that, it never became an issue in the 1998 presidential election. Likewise, the unprecedented depth the rating of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dipped into was not only attributable to the corruption scandals that were hounding it, but also to the hardships that the Filipino people were going through.