Gov't cashing in on oil price hikes, all set for March 31 strike

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/30 March) – Oil price hikes and corruption in government are two sides of the same coin, according to a transport group as it prepares for widespread transport strike and street protests on Thursday.

According to the Transport Alliance in Region X (Starex), government cannot close its eyes on the oil price hikes that has hit the country. It is not totally helpless either in stopping these price hikes, which already happened five times in the first three months of the year, the group added.

“The government cannot continue with sweeping justifications that it is helpless in stopping the skyrocketing prices of petroleum products because of unrest in the world’s oil producing countries,” said Sonny Hinosolango of Starex.

Citing a study by the Pagkakaisa ng Samahan ng Tsuper at Opeyrator Nationwide (Piston), they said that the prices of petroleum products is overpriced at an average of P7.50 since 2008.

Starex also said that government and the petroleum industry is actually enjoying a windfall of “mega-profits” from the price hikes. According to the Starex statement, the big three oil companies (Petron, Chevron and Shell) have been raking in P369.65 million per day in additional profit at current petroleum prices.

At the price of P57/liter of gasoline, Starex said, government is collecting P7 in Extended Value Added Tax (Evat), which is 12 percent of the petroleum prices.

“Government is earning P140 million a day from the EVAT collection alone,” said Hinosolango.

These figures, he pointed out, belie government claim that it is helpless in mitigating the impact of oil price hikes that is a result of the oil price speculation in the world market because of the social and political unrest in the Middle East and North Africa.

“Government cannot enjoy huge revenue windfalls when the people are overly burdened by high cost of transportation and basic goods,” the Starex said.

What aggravates the situation, the transport group said, is that “in the face of the serious crises that the country and the people are facing, oil companies are enjoying a windfall of additional profits with the protection of government, and the government itself enjoying additional taxes which will most likely go to the pockets of corrupt government bureaucracy.”

Authorities, meanwhile, are preparing for any impact on Thursday’s transport strike.

Chief Insp. Lemuel Gonda, chief for operations of the Cagayan de Oro City Police Office, said that they will deploying police personnel in major thoroughfares and choke points in the city.

“We will allow peaceful rallies and other forms of protests, as long as it does not disturb the peace and the mobility of the public,” Gonda told MindaNews.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LFTRB) in Northern Mindanao, meanwhile, said that it is ready to mobilize public utility buses to ensure mobility of the public.

But LTFRB regional director Mandangan Darimbang said that he believes that the impact of the strike would be minimal as major transport groups, as far as he knows, would not be participating.

“We will monitor the situation and would investigate operators of public utilities whether their act of not operating on March 31 violates the terms and conditions of their franchises,” Darimbang said.

Penalties for those they will find violating their franchises would be suspension of the public utility franchise, he warned.

Hinosolango, on the other hand, assured that their protest will be peaceful and that they would not resort to throwing of iron spikes to paralyze traffic.

“If indeed there are incidence of iron spike throwing, it would either be that some groups are trying to sabotage our peaceful protest or that the people are doing it on their own initiative due to so much anger over the unabated hike in fuel prices,” he said.

He assured that they will police their own ranks.

Transport strikes in Cagayan de Oro have gained notoriety in the 1990s as protesters burned tires and camped out in the main thoroughfares. (BenCyrus G. Ellorin / MindaNews)