May 12, 2008. Last May 12, the University Student Council (USC), through some of its members, in solidarity with the transport sector, participated in the nationwide transport strike. We released an article-statement and helped organize the picket at Philcoa. We even helped prepare lunch, which was simply monggo and rice, for everyone at the picket while we were in Pook Dagohoy. I didn’t quite stay long enough at Philcoa. After taking the lunch from Pook Dagohoy to the people at the picket, I just stayed for less than an hour taking a few photos and talking with some of my counterparts in the USC and STAND-UP.
A week before, I was invited by STAND-UP to speak as a student reactor in a forum about the oil crisis that it organized at the College of Education. I said something like, we should be vigilant on how the media will package the upcoming strike in its coverage and how the government and even pseudo-militant organizations will play up the protest in their favors. For sure, the media, sponsored in part by oil companies, and the government will emphasize on, say, the apparent inconveniences the transport strike will bring. They will interview irritated commuters and even jeepney drivers who did not participate in the strike. They will harp on the rising prices of oil as a consequence of a “global phenomenon” of market forces. Government will berate the jeepney drivers and threaten their franchises for wavering on their delivery of a public service. (The nerve of them to talk about public service, right?) For certain, I said, media will not give a lengthy coverage of the issues and the campaign itself. Pseudo-militant organizations will even cloud the media coverage further by pushing campaigns other than oil industry regulation, like fare increases and what have you. For that, it is up to student leaders and other organizers to explain the issues behind the campaign and why the calls to junk the oil deregulation law are just. It can be a complicated issue, I know. But for me, my sentiments boil down simply to the idea that I don’t think oil companies and the government have the nerve to tell everyone they can’t do anything to help Filipino consumers when oil companies post annual profits of billions of dollars.
Here, by the way, is the article and statement prepared and released by the People’s Struggles Committee of the University Student Council.
We are very much aware that the oil industry is very vital to the nation’s development. Our country is is a sanctuary of oil and energy sources such as the Malampaya and Nido in Palawan and the Liguasan Marsh in Central Mindanao. However, these and other potential energy sources like coal and geothermal are left for exploration and development in the control of foreign corporations, making us heavily reliant on imported oil products and its unending swelling of prices and eventually buying our own locally sourced new energy and power sources from foreign firms at higher costs.
Last year, the prices of various gasoline products increased by 24% (P35.75 to P44.45) while diesel prices hiked by up to 21% (P31.75 to P38.45). Cooking gas or LPG, most commonly used in households posted an increase of 21.95% (P533 to P650). Retail prices of kerosene which is used by small fishers as well as most households in the countryside and urban poor communities have jumped by 14%.
Since Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo rose to power in 2001, prices of gasoline products increased by 143% up to 147%; diesel prices increased by 172%. For the past twelve years since the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law was enacted in 1996, prices of gasoline products increased by 352% to 364%; diesel by 434%; kerosene by 454% and LPG by 356%.
Majority of the basic masses with very low purchasing power suffer the burden of increase in prices of basic commodities that rise up with the price of oil. The government even joined in bleeding the people dry by imposing a 12% RVAT on these products. Jeepney drivers, for instance, will have to work doubly hard to earn a decent income for their families with unabated diesel price hikes. Last year alone, a jeepney driver’s daily expense for diesel increased by P147.30 as the prevailing pump price of diesel jumped by P4.91 per liter between January and November 2007. (Based on transport group Piston’s estimate that a jeepney driver consumes an average of 30 liters of diesel per day). Diesel costs jeepney drivers around P1,125.90 per day and has to hand over between P600 to P900 (depending on the unit’s seating capacity) as daily “boundary” to the jeepney owner or operator. This means that he can only start earning for his family if he has already made P1,725.90 to P2,025.90 to cover for the diesel cost and the operator’s share.
In line with this, concrete and decisive steps must be implemented to stop these attacks on the income and livelihood of our people.
Repeal Republic Act 8479 or the Oil Deregulation Law. One concrete, urgent and practical solution to the ills of high oil prices is to repeal the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Law. The Filipino people has suffered its wounding impacts such as under deregulation, oil companies are no longer compelled or bound by law to justify the increases. Under the same policy, Oil Price Stabilization Fund (OPSF) or subsidies on oil products was removed. The fund could have still been utilized to mitigate the effects of oil price hike more so that the public is demanding for transparency and accountability from its government. And lastly, the declaration that the law would result to effective competition and accessibility with the entry of new industry players did not result in competition and affordability nationwide, particularly in the rural areas. The monopolistic control of transnational corporations was further encouraged by the Oil Deregulation Law. The existence of Petron, Royal Dutch-Shell, and Chevron (formerly Caltex) in the oil industry is the immediate reason for the overpriced and incessant increase in oil prices. They shamelessly and uncontrollably dictate the price of oil, pressure countries, even OPEC member countries, to create the market beneficial to their aim of earning billions of dollars. Imagine, six oil giants control the oil industry from exploration up to retailing of petroleum products making them the richest and most powerful block in the world. Even the Supreme Court in its decision on the constitutionality of the 1996 version of the oil deregulation law affirms the existence of such foreign oligopolistic control in the local oil industry. That is the reason why it is disgusting to hear from the government that they can’t do anything to lower the oil prices.
Oil is a deliberately essential commodity and must, therefore, be developed and nationalized, under which price is controlled, for the benefit of the people. Through nationalization and regulation, there would be room for reforming purely profit-oriented mechanisms into a socially responsible handling of the oil industry. With a government at the forefront of managing the oil industry, it has the capacity to direct the downstream oil industry with the national thrust towards economic development.
Currently there are proposed measures in Congress filed by Anakpawis, Bayan Muna and Gabriela Women Party that we must espouse to address immediate and long-term solutions to the problems of the oil industry. These measures are:
House Bill 3029: An Act Regulating the Downstream Petroleum Industry – This proposal requires the regulation of the petroleum industry through the creation of a buffer fund and a Petroleum Regulatory Council that will not be bound by the dictates of oil companies. Regulation can only be effective and truly beneficial if it is part of a program to nationalize the oil industry, so that local oil prices can be brought down from unreasonable and unjustifiable levels set by giant transnational oil corporations and can be prevented from falling prey to further monopoly pricing and manipulation.
House Bill 3030: An Act Instituting Centralized Procurement of Petroleum in the Country – This bill sees the need to interdict the hidden and unchecked transfer pricing between oil company subsidiaries, including probable price padding in the sale of petroleum and petroleum products between refiners and local subsidiaries, to protect the majority of Filipinos from current runaway increases in oil prices. This can be done through centralized procurement of all imported crude oil and refined petroleum products, which includes the creation of buffer supplies to cushion consumers against drastic increases in petroleum prices, and the re-nationalization of Petron Corporation.
HB 3031: An Act Renationalizing Petron Corporation – This bill defines it as a State policy that the business of importing, exporting, re-exporting, marketing, distributing, and selling, whether retail or wholesale, as well as operations and activities of natural and juridical persons, firms, and entities engaged in such activities, shall be carried out in a manner consistent with the public interest. This policy aims to: a) To assure that locally refined and processed petroleum products, as well as imported crude oil and processed petroleum, be primarily for the benefit of the general welfare; and, (b) To assure the public of reasonable prices for petroleum products and to prevent unfair trade/business practices in the industry, particularly with regards to prices.
HB 1126: An Act to include LPG and Kerosene in the list of basic necessities in Section 3, Definition of terms of Republic Act 7581 or the Price Act – LPG and kerosene are considered basic household necessities and socially sensitive products. Ironically, both are not included in the list of basic necessities provided in Section three (3), Definition of Terms of Republic Act 7580, and otherwise known as the “Price Act.” Thus, the filing of this bill. Other proposals include the moratorium on oil price hikes and the suspension of the 12%-Value Added Tax on oil products for a period of six months. When passed and sincerely implemented, can give immediate relief to almost half a million jeepney drivers and their families and 8.6 million households consuming LPG and 9.4 million households using kerosene. This must start with the government declaring as a matter of national policy that all activities relating to the downstream and upstream oil industry must be under regulation and supervision so as to allow the State to:
- Ensure adequate and continuous supply of crude oil and refined petroleum products under the most economic and competitive terms possible considering all available sources of supply, including local supply.
- Ensure that the entire petroleum industry serves the national interest and economic needs of the country.
- Ensure that the consuming public enjoys reasonable prices of petroleum products and prevent price manipulation, unfair competition and other trade abuses being committed primarily by big foreign oil corporations.
- Promote Filipino capital, labor and technology in the downstream and upstream oil industry.
- Uphold the constitutional guarantee of full state control and supervision over the country’s petroleum resources in the name of national interest and in pursuit of industrialization, while maximizing whatever benefits that foreign financial and technical assistance will bring in the exploration, development and utilization of local crude oil and other petroleum.
The diminishing accessibility of oil and basic commodities to the majority of the Filipino people is tantamount to eradicating our right to a dignified life. To reiterate what Ka Bel (Representative Crispin Beltran) pronounced, oil is the lifeline of the economy and we must struggle for the sustenance of the life of our nation.
REPEAL OIL DEREGULATION LAW! SCRAP THE VAT ON OIL! NATIONALIZE THE OIL INDUSTRY!
Sources: Various IBON Databank position papers on the Oil Industry Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Briefing Paper January 2008 Anakpawis Partylist Bayan Muna Partylist Gabriela Women’s Partylist Sun Star Philippine Daily Inquirer Pinoy Weekly