Transport strike set in Cotabato areas, Caraga

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/13 March) – Transport groups here and in nearby provinces of Sarangani and South Cotabato are preparing to launch a massive transport strike on Thursday in the wake of the continuing increase in fuel prices.

Larry Villegas, chair of the Transport Integrated for Restructuring of Economic Services (Tires) here, said they decided to stage a strike to protest the “unending” oil price hikes and compel the national
government to act on the matter.

“We’re calling on the government to scrap the VAT (value-added tax) on fuel to help ease our present situation,” he said in the vernacular.

Villegas, who also heads the South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos chapter of national transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Transport Operators Nationwide (Piston), said they are presently coordinating with other transport organizations in the area to join the planned strike.

In this city, he said the strike will start at around 4 a.m. In various choke points and will end at 3 p.m.

“Aside from this, we’re also planning to stage massive protests on a weekly basis,” Villegas said in a radio interview.

Based on the group’s monitoring, fuel prices have been increasing in the last five consecutive weeks, with diesel already breaching the P50-mark.

Since January, oil firms have implemented two price rollbacks and nine increases, it said.

Premium and unleaded gasoline are retailed here between 61 and P62 per liter. In nearby Koronadal City the price of premium gasoline has reached P63.30 per liter, which is the highest so far for the area.

According to the Department of Energy’s (DoE) oil monitoring report, the year-to-date net increase for gasoline and diesel stands at P5.25 per liter and P3 per liter, respectively.

This is on top of the recorded net increase for last year, which was P4.78 per liter for gasoline and P6.39 per liter for diesel.

The DoE said the prices of Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) have so far increased from P835 to P919 per 11-kilogram cylinder.

Villegas earlier said they were not inclined to seek another increase in minimum fare, which presently stands at P7.50 for the first four kilometers, due to its negative impact on local consumers and prices
of basic goods.

Aside from the scrapping of the VAT on oil, he said they have been urging the local government and traffic enforcers in the area to intensify their crackdown against the operations of “colorum” or unregistered public utility vehicles and single motorcycles currently proliferating in the area.

In Caraga Region or Region 13, the militant women’s group Gabriela has urged mothers to join the transport strike on Thursday saying they bear the brunt of the effects of oil price increases as the family’s “budget keepers.”

Atel Hijos, Gabriela-Caraga spokesperson said the minimum wage earners in the region only get P255 per day or less than the P700 required for a family of six to survive.

In Surigao City, local government workers receive P170 per day, or less than the minimum wage.

Hijos said it was high time for people in the region to go to the streets to protest the oil price increases.

She added the oil deregulation law was slowly killing the Filipino family.

On Friday last week, various sectors in the city including representatives from the local government gathered at the City Cultural Center for the launching of a multi-sectoral group called People’s Response to Oil Price Hikes.

Avel Javier, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) Caraga spokesperson said there have been no clear justifications for the increases. He noted there were no “shocks” of global implications except for the “aggression” against Iran and other Middle East countries.

Javier, an accountant by profession and a former bank manager, cited an article written by political writer Noam Chomsky which predicts that the demand for oil is expected to collapse in mid-2012. He said the oil companies are only preparing for the worst, and the recent increases are only done to ensure they earn more profits before the expected collapse occurs.

“What is happening now is that oil companies are weaving stories to justify the increases which in turn are artificial. Wala may shocks na nahitabo and in fact there is an economic slowdown in the whole world thus there is a low demand for oil,” the Bayan official said. (Allen V. Estabillo and Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)