By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA – Small fisherfolk in several coastal towns of Cavite expressed their support to the oil and production subsidy proposed by the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) and Anakpawis party list.
Last week, some 150 fisherfolk and coastal village leaders, including parish priests and church workers from Bacoor, Kawit, Noveleta, Tanza, Rosario and Cavite City assembled at the Marian Hall, Rosario Parish Compound in Rosario, Cavite.
The forum was organized by the Ministry of Fisherfolk under the Diocese of Imus and the Bacoor-based Alyansa ng Magdaragat sa Bacoor Bay Inc., an affiliate of Pamalakaya and Anakpawis party list.
In the forum, Pamalakaya information officer Gerry Albert Corpuz called on the audience to support the proposed oil production subsidy campaign of Pamalakaya. The proposal was originally made in 2008 and directed against the relentless increases in the prices of petroleum products.
Corpuz, who also serves as consultant of Anakpawis party list Rep. Rafael Mariano in the House of Representatives, said fisherfolk deserve a substantial oil subsidy from the national government because the cost of fuel now eats up 80 percent of the cost of production per fishing trip.
According to Pamalakaya and Anakpawis proposal, fisherfolk operating a small motorized banca should be entitled to a P 4,500 ($104.65) monthly oil subsidy to hurdle at least 50 percent of the cost spent on petroleum products. In the meantime, those who use only paddles should be given P 2,500 ($58.13) production subsidy for the use of kerosene and other support mechanisms in fishing.
“The small fisherfolk need this subsidy. Because of the high prices of petroleum products, small fishermen are often forced to cut their fishing days and shorten their fishing hours,” Corpuz explained.
Corpuz said there are 313, 985 small boat fishing operators in the country who, at the height of successive oil increases in 2008 and 2009, were compelled to reduce fishing days to three to four days a week. Before then, they had six fishing days a week.
Fisherfolk were also forced to reduce fishing hours from eight to 12 hours per fishing trip to a very short four hours to eight hours daily. He said, in 2001, small fisherfolk used to consume 10 liters of oil and they spent P 180 (US$4.18) per day for it.
Now, they can only shell out P600 $13.95) weekly or even less for oil.
Pamalakaya and Anakpawis said some 653,000 paddle using fishermen will also benefit from the proposed oil production subsidy program.
When asked where it will get the fund, the groups enumerated the following possible sources: First, there is the P68 billion ($1.5 billion) audit-free pork barrel of the Office of the President; second, funds can come from the budget allocated for debt servicing; third, from pork barrels of senators and congressmen; and fourth, the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) and calamity funds of local government units (LGUs).
In the meantime, Pamalakaya vice chairman Salvador France also appealed to Cavite fishermen and church people under the Diocese of Imus to form a province-wide opposition against looming reclamation projects in Bacoor Bay and other municipal waters of the province.
The Pamalakaya leader asked the parishes in every coastal town of the province to conduct a study on the impact of the Manila Bay Master Development Program, one of the public private partnership schemes of the Aquino administration. France said fisherfolk should oppose the widespread reclamation projects in the province and other parts of Manila Bay.
“We are happy to hear that the Diocese of Imus, through its Ministry in Fisheries, is actively engaged in upholding the rights of small fisherfolk. We are very optimistic that this will spread all over the coastal towns of Cavite. This is very welcome news,” he said.
France said about 7,100 hectares of foreshore land area in Bacoor Bay had been reclaimed for the R-1 Road Expressway project, which now stands as the Cavite Expressway and the national government intends to reclaim 5,000 hectares more for the development of the former American naval base in Sangley Point in Cavite City.
Operate Petron refinery proposal nixed
Pamalakaya and other people’s organizations continue to hold campaigns to highlight the problem of continuing oil price hikes and its impact on the economic wellbeing of the public. For all their efforts, however, the Aquino administration remains seemingly indifferent to the problem.
It will be remembered that earlier in October, President Benigno Aquino III turned down Petron’s offer to sell back to the government its Bataan refinery. The proposal was supported by several quarters who said it would allow the government to gain “significant influence” on the prices of petroleum products in the country.
The executive, however, retorted that operating Petron’s refinery would not be in the country’s “best interest.” He said the government cannot efficiently run “something that has purely business applications.” He said the government might end up losing money, and that it would not gain any advantage in the long run.
Petron Corp., the country’s largest oil refiner and retailer, has offered its Bataan refinery for reacquisition by the government to help address the spiraling prices of petroleum products.
In a letter to Energy Secretary Jose Rene Almendras, Petron chairman and CEO Ramon S. Ang said the company was offering to sell the refinery back to the government if this would help in addressing the issue of increasing pump prices.
“Having control of the largest petroleum refining assets in the country will place the government in a better position to develop and devise comprehensive and long-term programs and solutions,” Ang said in his letter.
“Through this acquisition, the government will enjoy significant influence on the prices of petroleum products and in securing the supply of petroleum products in the country,” he added.
Ang said the offer of Petron’s refinery was a result of the growing public opinion that the government needs to reinvest in Petron as a way to attain effective participation in the petroleum industry.
“The recent trend of rising prices of petroleum products has led to the ongoing discussions in Congress and in media to revisit the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law and a loud clamor for more government participation in the industry,” Ang said.
“In fact, a number of bills have been proposed in both (the Lower House and Senate) aimed at implementing measures for government to stabilize prices and secure continuous supply of petroleum products in the country,” Ang added.
Aquino’s rejection of the offer went directly against the call of progressive lawmakers in Congress led by the Makabayan bloc. Representatives of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriel Women’s Party-lists have perennially stated that the government should nationalize Petron as it is one of the solutions to the country’s oil woes.
Consult the Filipino people
Gabriela Women’s Party Rep. Emmi De Jesus shook her head upon learning of the president’s dismissal of Petron’s offer. She said the executive should have at least consulted all major stakeholders, not to mention the Filipino people , before saying no.
“Refusing to buy back Petron is also an obvious rejection of the call to nationalize the oil industry. That the government has no money to buy back Petron and is inefficient to run something that has a purely business application are lame excuses. The Commission on Audit and the Department of Energy reported that the total Malampaya funds collected since 2002 up to June 30, 2011 and was placed in Fund 151, has amounted to around P115 billion ($26.7 billion). The government could use this fund to buy back Petron,” she pointed out.
De Jesus said oil companies and how they operate are prime examples of “ corporate greed” that has driven hundreds of thousands of citizens globally to join the “Occupy Movement.”
“President Aquino should take heed of the people’s demand to take back management of vital industries that greatly affect people’s lives, and not leave these in the hands of corporations. Aquino should also act on the public clamor to repeal the oil deregulation law and seriously implement programs toward the nationalization of the oil industry,” she said.