“The latest round of price hikes will definitely hurt consumers including low to middle-income earners and especially poor sectors like farmers, fisherfolk and urban poor.”
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Picket protests in different places across the Philippines greeted today’s hike in oil prices. On Feb 26, gasoline and diesel prices increased by Php1.45 per liter, kerosene by P1.35 per liter.
In three weeks of oil price hikes, the cumulative fuel price hikes as of this month is P6 for diesel, Php5 for gasoline and P4 to P5 per liter of kerosene.
Unlike the prices of other products, any hike in oil prices exerts a domino effect on prices of other products, said Bayan Muna candidate for Senator Neri Colmenares who led one of the picket protests in front of a Petron gas station in Timog Avenue, Quezon City.
During the protest, Colmenares chided the Department of Energy (DoE) for delaying the release of a circular that would order the unbundling of oil prices.
He said the rates of electricity and water have been unbundled as presented to the consumers, yet the price of oil remains a mystery to consumers.
“How can the Department of Energy do its job of ensuring that oil companies are not overcharging the consumers if it cannot even see the break-down or how the oil companies have been arriving at their prices of oil?” Colmenares asked.
He said unbundling is not the solution per se to the problem of oil price hikes and inflation – there is the oil deregulation law giving the oil companies freedom to increase prices; the TRAIN law that imposed an additional P2 as excise tax on every liter of oil products; and there are the other government policies that contribute to high prices of basic goods.
“It’s not true the government can’t do something to address the oil price hikes and its pressure on inflation,” Colmenares said.
To reduce the prices of oil products, Colmenares said, the government must suspend the excise tax imposed on oil products because of the implementation of the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) Law. He urged the Duterte government to remove also the Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed on oil products.
“With VAT on oil products, the government is benefiting from every spike in oil prices and adding to the misery of poor consumers,” Colmenares said.
Higher inflation amid stagnant wages means greater misery
Given the P4 to P6 per liter cumulative price hikes in the last three weeks, transport groups are now pushing for a P1-fare hike.
The prices of basic goods, meanwhile, have already increased from 1 to 5 percent, canned goods by P0.40 to P1.30, some vegetable items by P10 to P40 per kilo, bangus by P40, beef by P25, and even condiments, Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said in another statement.
“The latest round of price hikes will definitely hurt consumers including low to middle-income earners and especially poor sectors like farmers, fisherfolk and urban poor,” the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas said. Contrary to common estimates that mostly the drivers feel the pinch of oil price hikes, the agricultural sector also reels from it, according to KMP. Farmers use diesel in agricultural production and kerosene in their households.
Jovy Torres, a peasant woman leader and a mother of two, said farmers like her can no longer afford to pay for other needs after buying the most essentials. “We make do with just rice, salt and a little to eat it with. But even the price of salt has lately increased.”
Torres earns only an average of P300 to P400 after selling her family’s farm produce like bananas and root crops. Other low-income sectors such as the fisherfolk and urban poor are expected to reel from the effects of price hikes.
At the Mendiola Peace Arch near Malacañang, youth groups burned during a protest rally some LPG-shaped effigies to dramatize the “stark condemnation and the resulting explosion of mass unrest.” They blamed the Duterte administration’s policies and called for Duterte’s ouster.
Oil prices as election issue
Considering that it is currently the campaign period for midterm elections, Senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares urged the public to scrutinize the candidates and quiz them for their position on oil deregulation, Value-Added taxes, TRAIN law and other policies that are contributing to the people’s poverty and misery.
“This should be a period of winning the people’s hearts and minds,” Anakpawis Rep. Casilao said. He criticized the administration candidates saying their loyalty to President Duterte, who is carrying out the very policies that sow poverty and misery across the country, will alienate them from the populace.
The women’s group Gabriela, meanwhile, blasted the Duterte government for using as excuse in implementing “tax reforms” the need to fund free college education, wage hike for teachers and government employees , pension, free medicines and other public services.
“The government shouldn’t run the interest and welfare of the people against its responsibility to provide for the rights of the majority,” said Joms Salvador, secretary general of women’s group Gabriela. She urged the public to take Duterte to task as “Duterte is saying all these while the legislators continue to relish their pork barrel and billions of public funds are being lost to corruption.”
To bring change or actual reforms that will benefit the people or even just give them a breather, Casilao of Anakpawis Partylist called for support for House Bill No. 7653 repealing the Train law, HB 3676 to regulate the oil sector, and HB 1760 to re-nationalize Petron. Lawmakers under the Makabayan bloc filed these bills.
To survive the shrinking household incomes, the progressive lawmakers also urged the Filipino workers and marginalized sectors to support the HB 7787 or the P750 National Minimum Wage and HB 556 Anti-Contractualization Bill.
Casilao appealed to the people “to stand against the fatal mixture of anti-people economics and traditional politics, which keeps the majority of Filipinos poor and miserable, and bars genuine national development.”