Typhoon Yolanda destroyed lives and properties of as much as 10 million people in Eastern Visayas, but this “other Yolanda” represented by simultaneous price hikes “will affect most if not all Filipinos.” – Banking and Financial Unions
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – In a picket protest evening of December 11 in front of Plantersbank main building at H.V. Dela Costa, Makati City, bank employees lit candles and displayed placards criticizing the Aquino government’s inaction on the current spate of price hikes. It is like “another Yolanda” lashing at Filipinos, they said.
“The recent left and right increases in power rates, MRT and LRT fare hikes, the LPG and petroleum product price increases, basic commodity price hike and the increase in SSS premium for workers all represent another disaster for the working class,” said Raymund Aceña, a bank union president and member of the secretariat of Banking and Financial Unions (BFU), an alliance of bank unions.
Demanding action from the Aquino government, the BFU said in a statement, they are issuing calls for relief “in behalf of the working class.”
Runaway price hikes
Meralco, the biggest power distributor servicing the capital and adjacent regions, recently received the go-signal from the Energy Regulatory Commission to jack up power rates by Php3.44/kwh (Php 2.00/kwh this December 2013, Php 1.00/kwh on February 2014 and Php 0.44 on March 2014). These unprecedented high increases would further make power rates in Metro Manila the most expensive in the world, the BFU said.
Fare rates in rapid mass transportation system such as MRT and LRT Lines 1 and 2, are being discussed in a public consultation December 12, with a Php 10.00 proposed fare hike looming starting this month. The Aquino government has been proposing a Php 5.00 increase for Dec 2013 and another Php 5.00 increase beginning 2014. Thus, the end-to-end fare would cost Php 25.00 ($0.27) for both MRT and LRT2 lines and Php 30.00 ($0.68) for LRT1- Baclaran-Munoz line.
Workers, employees and their student dependents are the most frequent riders of LRT and MRT. Aside from bank employees, the working people and students would suffer the most from the looming fare rate increases.
LPG price per kilogram has increased by as much as Php 14.30 starting December 2, bringing the cost per tank to as much as Php 900.00 ($20.4). Auto-LPG, on the other hand, will be priced Php 7.99 more per kilogram, thus cutting into the income of taxi drivers who had shifted to auto-LPG.
SSS premium, meanwhile, is set to increase 0.6 per cent. Malacañang had previously defended the increase as needed to prolong the fund’s lifespan, but researches by Kilusang Mayo Uno had also belied the government justification, as it showed that the pension fund is actually making profits and can afford to increase benefits without increasing the burden on the employed. SSS executives have also been criticized for dipping into the workers’ funds by giving themselves fat bonuses and per diems.
Taken all together, the simultaneous price hikes in basic commodities are being feared like “another Yolanda” by the bank employees in the country’s central business district. Traditionally, they are viewed as relatively paid well. But now, with outsourcing and contractualization affecting their unions and bargaining power, they have also been feeling the pinch of falling wages and benefits over the past years.
For the bank employees who protested at Makati last night, typhoon Yolanda destroyed lives and properties of as much as 10 million people in Eastern Visayas, but this “other Yolanda” represented by simultaneous price hikes “will affect most if not all Filipinos.”
BFU’s Aceña said the onslaught of typhoon Yolanda lasted two days, but this “other Yolanda” is staying for keeps.
Like the Aquino government’s response to typhoon Yolanda, the Aquino government’s response to this “other Yolanda reflects its inability to protect and inability to rescue and aid its people,” Aceña said.
He said the Aquino government should have subjected the power rates to scrutiny and put a stop to the increase. Instead, the Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the hike ahead of the Department of Energy’s pronouncement of a probe on such an increase.
Various mainstream media reports have detailed the Energy Regulatory Commission’s justifications for its actions, saying these are due to the government’s moving away from subsidizing power costs of consumers. This has once again sparked calls from different sectors to scrap EPIRA, the law that deregulated the power industry, giving the Energy Regulatory Commission an excuse to not meddle in private companies’ rates, and the power companies the freedom to charge increases and charge all costs of their investments to the consumers.
The bank employees said the situation is not being helped by the fact that apart from the meager P10.00 increase in October this year, “there is no sign that the present administration will push for legislated wage hike in Congress.”
“All these increases will be shouldered by consumers, commuters and workers themselves. Private corporation employers are also not up to providing aid and relief for their workers, organised or unorganised,” Aceña said.
Mark Gonzales, President of Plantersbank Employees Association, said in their case, for example, “Our Union sees no relief as even closing a CBA with Management for the remaining two years is dragging for four months now. Apart from contractualization and outsourcing, we are being set back by ceaseless, left and right increases in commodity prices and utility bills.”
The Plantersbank union decried that essentially, the bank management is signifying a deadlock in negotiation with the union last week.
Sixty-five percent of Plantersbank has been sold to Chinabank, a Henry Sy-owned corporation two months ago. Henry Sy, the tycoon behind SM mall chains and Banco de Oro, has also been dubbed by the KMU and Gabriela as the contractual king, as a big majority of SM employees are temporary contractual workers.
More protests vs gov’t inaction on price hikes
Before closing their early evening picket-protest, the bank workers led by PlanterBank announced that they are set to join new calls of action opposing price hikes apart from what they staged that night.
“If, in any case, this ‘other Yolanda’ becomes the escape route of the present administration from the issue of Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), they should be mistaken. This only enrages the people further, and it will make them decide to oust those responsible,” said Reginald Ricohermoso, President of Maybank Philippines Employees Union.