“It’s as if the oil companies just took a break (from hiking prices) in the run-up to the elections to give the Malacañang candidates a chance to prettify themselves, especially since Noynoy was personally campaigning for the administration slate.” – Piston
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – As oil companies raise prices again June 11, the fifth round of price hikes since the May elections, public utility drivers and small operators led by Piston protested in front of the headquarters of Petron Oil Corporation in Mandaluyong.
“We stormed the headquarters of the Danding Conjuangco-controlled Petron to call attention to the close links of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III and the giant oil companies,” said George San Mateo, national president of Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahang Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON). Of the so-called Big Three oil companies, Petron has the biggest market share and refinery. Petron also used to be state-owned. Piston regards President Aquino, a nephew of Danding Cojuangco, as the “no.1 protector of the interests of the oil giants and foreign oil companies.” Petron also apparently leads in declaring oil price hikes.
Danding Cojuangco was a former Marcos crony. His wealth survived the ouster of the dictatorship; his wealth and business interests seemed to have expanded further from the time of the first Aquino administration up to the present. He managed to hold on to his “ill-gotten wealth,” and used it to further expand his business empire. He is now into the energy businesses such as oil and power.
Post-election price hikes
San Mateo likened the oil companies to “newly freed demons” who promptly raised oil prices every week after the mid-term elections.
“It’s as if the oil companies just took a break (from hiking prices) in the run-up to the elections to give the Malacañang candidates a chance to prettify themselves, especially since Noynoy was personally campaigning for the administration slate,” San Mateo said. He explained that various groups such as Piston would have called for protest actions – damaging the chances of Malacañang candidates — if the oil companies raised prices then.
Questions concerning the “overpriced” oil products in the Philippines have remain unanswered to this day, even if a probe into it had been one of Aquino’s promises when he himself was campaigning for the presidency three years ago. The energy department formed an “independent investigative body” more than a year after Aquino took office, in response to growing clamor for lowering oil prices, and removing the Value-Added Tax on oil products. But the said “independent” body only analyzed data and information that the oil companies freely gave to them. It eventually cleared the oil companies of overpricing, and defended the oil companies’ “right to acceptable rates of return (or profits).”
San Mateo of Piston decried the pitiless timing of the surge in oil prices, just when ordinary citizens and drivers are scrambling to find money for their children’s tuition and other school needs.
“Every time oil prices increase, drivers feel the crunch tighter and harder. We don’t know how we could continue to earn as the oil companies seize much or all of our takehome pay,” San Mateo lamented.Unfortunately, with the country’s worsening jobs situation, there is little to no available alternative jobs for them. In fact, for many unemployed, driving any vehicle for hire, from pedicab to tricycle to jeepneys and taxis, has been one of the oft-taken sources of livelihood.
For small public utility drivers such as jeepney and FX/AUV taxi drivers, every oil price hike means a corresponding cut in their take-home pay. While oil companies can freely raise pump prices and are assured by law and by the government of their rights to “acceptable profits,” drivers as one of its end-consumers could not just increase their fares to recoup the higher cost of fuel. Drivers are not assured of “acceptable” rates of return.
Raising fares is regulated by the government. Besides, groups like Piston have, as much as possible, resolutely steered clear of this option. They say it would only mean burdening the already burdened commuters. Other drivers’ group such as ACTO recently demanded a P2 fare hike. But Piston and most progressive groups would rather demand for a stop to oil price hikes, San Mateo told Bulatlat.com.
Aquino dared to walk his talk on glowing economy
San Mateo dared President Aquino to take “concrete steps” toward blocking the weekly price hikes. He dared Aquino to order a price rollback “based on actual oil prices and not on what the oil cartel has decreed.”
Protests aganst oil price hikes have engendered one of President Aquino’s most stinging criticicsms yet, one which swiftly trended in social networking sites and got widely reported– his “Noynoying” or “doing nothing” on the oil companies’ overpricing.
Activists have since stopped spreading the jibe, reasoning that Aquino is definitely not “Noynoying” when it comes to making decisions advancing the interest of big businesses. But as oil prices are rising weekly once again, amid a festering jobs crisis and very low wages, groups such as Piston are once again condemning Aquino’s “extreme laziness and uselessness” at curbing the oil cartel’s abuses.
During their protest in front of Petron Oil Corporation morning of Jun 11, Piston burned a copy of the oil companies joined logos, pictures of President Aquino and his uncle, Danding Cojuangco. They called this joined images a representation of “Gates of Hell.”
“As prices of oil, electricity, water, tution and other basic gods continue to increase, we continue to live in worsening misery,” San Mateo said. He dared Aquino to act on these price hikes. If not, he warned, Aquino would have to contend with the peoples’ and drivers’ growing protests.