“At this point any increase in transport fares will be rendered insignificant amid continuing oil price increases.” – Lana Linaban, Gabriela
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Filipinos are known for being optimistic and happy, but many still cannot escape the harsh reality of increasing prices and dwindling income. More than half of Filipino families (10.4 million) have rated themselves as poor in the third quarter of this year, up from last quarter’s 9.8 million families, based on a Social Weather Stations survey. “Moderate” and “severe” hunger also reportedly worsened, as an estimated 4.3 million families experienced having nothing to eat in the past three months.
These only confirmed what progressive groups have been saying each time they press the government to put an end to hikes in prices of oil products and utilities, and for a substantial wage hike. The monthly budget of Filipino families has been eroded through the years without a substantial wage hike amid nonstop price hikes.
In a study released last April, independent think-tank Ibon Foundation revealed that the current minimum wage in the National Capital Region, where wage is relatively highest in the country, is down to two-fifths of the estimated average family living wage (FLW) of P988 ($22.976) a day. Wages have thus shrunk further from being at least half of the average family living wage in 2001 to just two-fifths of living wages today.
Aquino administration and price hikes, worse hunger
Instead of correcting this problem of forced belt-tightening of Filipinos, the Aquino government has “time and again wronged the people by failing to provide a much needed respite from scandalous increases in prices of oil and other commodities,” said Lana Linaban, secretary-general of women’s group Gabriela.
President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has been accused of conniving with the oil cartel and sharing in their “greed,” to the detriment of Filipino consumers. Aquino has also been criticized for not acting on pricing abuses of telecommunication companies, power companies, drug companies and schools and universities. His 2012 budget was likewise condemned by critics as skewed against the actual needs of the people and more in favour of paying big financial institutions and arming the military.
Through the government’s liberalization and deregulation measures such as the Oil Deregulation Law and Electric Power Industry reform Act (EPIRA), big companies are said to have been freely getting away with overpricing. This has resulted in “overpriced” oil products, highest power rates in Asia, one of the highest prices of medicines in the world, among others.
Given the price hikes, the nationwide inflation rate is now 5.2 percent from the 3.5 percent in July. The number of hungry (one in five families) is 50-percent higher than its 13-year average
In their rally last Tuesday at the Land Transportation Franchising Regulatory Board (LTFRB), Linaban accused Aquino of just covering up the impact of its policies, as the National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB), “resorts to manipulations of statistics of poverty threshold level.”
Like former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the Aquino government has lowered the daily minimum subsistence level from P52 to P46 ( $1.21 to $1.07) per person per day, “downgrading the quality of diet of the poor” while deceiving them, said Linaban. The Aquino government has lately also bared more teeth in quelling protests, as it used violence to disperse the rally of students at Mendiola.
Stopping price hikes
The women’s group Gabriela translated into action the idea they aired two weeks ago in another rally in front of the LTFRB: they filed last Tuesday their opposition to the fare hike petition filed earlier by some transport groups.
Although professing sympathy with the plight of drivers of public utility jeepneys, Gabriela said, “A new round of fare hike is not a just and equitable move.” They proposed instead a substantial rollback in oil prices as immediate relief for commuters and drivers alike.
Prices of unleaded gasoline rose by P0.80 a liter recently, while regular gasoline rose by P0.85 a liter. This year alone, power rate has increased by P.44/kwh, water by an average of P5.7/cu.m. and just recently, LPG by P1.50/kg.
Instead of contributing to the practice of passing on the burden of oil price hikes to the commuting public, Gabriela urged transport groups to join them instead in demanding a rollback in the price of oil by putting a stop to the overpricing and price manipulation of the oil cartel and pushing for the exemption from value-added tax of oil and other petroleum products. “At this point any increase in transport fares will be rendered insignificant amid continuing oil price increases,” Linaban said.
The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (Piston) also issued a similar challenge to other transport groups.
“Beyond these proposals (for rollback), a more strategic solution to the burden of oil price hikes would be to repeal the Oil Deregulation Law, which has provided the legal basis for oil companies to control and impose the price of oil that has burdened the people, including drivers, with oil price hikes,” Linaban added.
After filing their petition with the LTFRB, Gabriela marched to the East Avenue gas station of Danding Cojuangco-controlled Petron to emphasize that their protest “is mainly against oil overpricing and the Aquino government’s complicity in protecting the profits of big oil companies.”