Jeepney drivers go on strike

MMDA sets free rides for commuters amid protest over oil price spikes

Protesting the skyrocketing price of fuel, jeepney drivers and operators will stage a transport strike today even as the government will provide free rides in Metro Manila to shield commuters from it.

MORE WAGES FOR HIGHER PRICES. Jeepney drivers and operators hold up placards at the corner of Katipunan Avenue and Aurora Boulevard in Quezon City to start their weeklong protest against rising oil prices. Manny Palmero

On Monday, oil companies announced they would raise the price of diesel—the fuel used by jeepneys—by a staggering P13.15 a liter, and gasoline prices by P7.10 a liter, adding urgency to calls for the government to suspend the excise tax on petroleum products.

Although they are not calling their actions today a strike, the Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operators Nationwide (Piston) said Sunday they will hold protest rallies in various parts of the National Capital Region as well as other regions.

In a statement, Piston said the protesters will converge in Blumentritt in Sampaloc and will proceed all the way to Mendiola, both in Manila.

The price increase, Piston President Modesto “Mody” Floranda told CNN Philippines, is “a huge loss (for drivers). The increases have a big effect, and drivers lose up to ₱350 in earnings per day, which could have been used for other needs.”

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The Federation of Jeepney Operators and Drivers Association of the Philippines (FEJODAP) said it will not join any rally or strike but its president, Ricardo “Boy” Rebano, said they are asking for a fare increase of P1 from the government.

“This would be a big help to increase the earnings of drivers for our necessities especially as prices of petroleum products continue to rise,” Rebano told CNN Philippines.

To solve the expected lack of public utility vehicles in NCR, the chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), Romando Artes, said: “Agency buses and trucks will be prepositioned to provide free rides to commuters and transport them to the EDSA Bus Carousel.”

“’Libreng Sakay’ signs will be attached to vehicles so that the public can easily identify them,” Artes added, noting his agency would deploy 20 vehicles, including 11 commuter vans, six buses and three military trucks to provide free rides.

The MMDA will also deploy traffic personnel and Road Emergency Group members in various parts of the National Capital Region to assist motorists and commuters who would be adversely affected by the transport strike.

He also said the Pasig River Ferry Service, serving as alternative transport for commuters, is operational Mondays to Saturdays.

The oil companies, citing high world prices for oil aggravated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, also raised the price of kerosene by P10.50 a liter.

The Department of Energy (DOE) warned that if the high oil price trend continues with Dubai reaching $140 per barrel, gasoline will reach P86.72 per liter, diesel, P81.10 per liter, and kerosene, P80.50 per liter.

This week’s increase in pump prices, the 11th consecutive this year, was announced by Caltex, Petron Corp., and Cleanfuel.

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said in a TV interview President Rodrigo Duterte is calling for a meeting Tuesday with DOE and Department of Finance (DOF) officials to discuss a possible suspension of the excise tax on fuel products.

“We are asking for the deferment or the suspension of the excise [tax]…. that’s our perspective but again looking at the bigger picture we must balance our needs, the excise tax is used in many ways,” Cusi said.

The DOF has opposed suspending the excise tax, saying it would result in P131 billion in forgone revenue for the government.

Oil companies said the suspension of the excise tax will bring down diesel prices by P6 per liter and gasoline by P10 per liter.

The chairman of the Independent Philippine Petroleum Companies Association (IPPCA), Fernando Martinez, told the Senate Monday that the oil companies supported calls to suspend the collection of excise taxes.

At the hearing, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian urged the immediate implementation of the P2.5 billion Pantawid Pasada Program that will cover about 377,000 beneficiaries in the public transport sector.

“The Pantawid Pasada is our lone shock absorbing mechanism to cushion the impact [of high oil prices] on our consumers. I’ve been calling for the quick implementation of this because oil prices are moving faster than the government is distributing the subsidies,” Gatchalian said.

Rino Abad, director of the DOE Oil Industry Management Bureau, said the current minimum inventory requirement (MIR) is 30 days for refiners (combination of crude and finished petroleum products), 15 days for direct importers of refined petroleum products and seven days for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

The government wants to raise the MIR, a move that the oil companies oppose.

“On the MIR we feel that it is sufficient already…What is important is long-term supply contracts that are stable,” said Raffy Capinpin, a representative of the Philippine Institute of Petroleum.

He said increasing the MIR would increase prices “because prices are demand driven so if everybody starts buying double then you exacerbate the requirement.”

Meanwhile, power generators warned of higher electricity rates starting May due to the high cost of oil and coal.

To cushion the impact on consumers, the Philippine Independent Power Producers Association (PIPPA) called for the suspension of VAT or excise taxes and the removal of import tariffs on coal.

“We floated this idea regarding targeted subsidies through lifeline consumers funded by the government from the share of the Malampaya proceeds,” PIPPA executive director Ann Montelibano said.

Cusi said that for every $100 fluctuation on coal, there is a P2 increase per kilowatt hour.

“That will hurt because the price of coal was at $180 and it is now over $400 per ton,” he said.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, acting presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said the President would decide on the recommendations to suspend the excise tax on fuel products.

Also on Monday:

The state-run Philippine National Oil Co. (PNOC) said it is looking at borrowing from the Development Bank of the Philippines or Land Bank of the Philippines to fund the interim strategic petroleum reserve for program (SPR) for diesel that will be set up by next month. PNOC

president and chief executive officer Jesus Posadas said during a Senate hearing Monday they are planning to set up the interim SPR in coordination with oil industry players, who could provide their unused storage capacities.

In a House Resolution, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas said national government agencies, representatives from civil society, sectoral groups, and the private sector should immediately meet to formulate an “integrated policy solution” to what he described as an impending national and global crisis. “The social and economic impact of the war in Ukraine is being felt worldwide. It could lead to another great disruption, on a scale that could be similar to the pandemic. In the midst of uncertainty, it is imperative that our government and other sectors work as one in securing better protection for vulnerable segments of our society,” Vargas said in a statement.

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