Zamboanga City bizmen suspect cartel behind oil price hike, call for investigation

ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 12 Oct) – Businessmen in this city are suspecting that a cartel is behind the “constant price increase of fuel” in the past weeks and the “unconscionably high fuel pump prices” even as petroleum prices soared all over the world because of short supply and high demand.

Fuel prices in Zamboanga City as of 12 October 2021. MindaNews photo by FRENCIE CARREON

Pedro Rufo Soliven, president of the Zamboanga City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. (ZCCCIFI), said that the oil price increase and the high pump prices locally “need to be investigated” as a chamber resolution said the latter was “tantamount to … economic sabotage.”

The prices of diesel fuel here today have gone up to P55.15 at Caltex/Chevron, P59.05 at Z-Oil, P57.08 at Shell, P55.09 at Seaoil, and P54.89 at Phoenix.

According to two gas boys (Neil and Amil) from two different gas stations asked by MindaNews Tuesday afternoon, the price increases have been weekly, the amount ranging from one to two pesos per liter.

But gas operator Oliver Ong said they “have no control over the pricing” as they only “get advice from the oil companies.”

According to a report released by the Department of Energy (DoE) in its website, fuel prices are highest in Zamboanga City as of Oct. 5.

RON 91 (regular) gasoline, for instance, averages at P61.97 in this city while diesel is at P54.51. In Pagadian City in Zamboanga del Sur, prices are only at P57.54 and P49.90, respectively.

Prices are even much cheaper in Davao City: regular gasoline is P56.13 while diesel averages P47.48. In Cagayan de Oro, prices are at P57.90 and P49.49, respectively.

“We have no idea why Zamboanga City has higher price compared to other cities in Mindanao. Actually, we [local gas operators] are not allowed to set our own price,” said Ong, who is also a chamber member.

In an interview, Soliven said colleagues in the industry “complain and lament about the unconscionably high fuel pump prices in Zamboanga City” that they have been bringing the issue to Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and other regional and national government agencies.

He said they requested for an investigation since June 30 but the DoE has no action yet.

The Regional Development Council’s (RDC) Economic Development Committee (EdCom), which Soliven chairs, passed a resolution endorsing to RDC IX to urgently request DoE to investigate the high fuel pump prices in the city.

Fuel prices in Zamboanga City as of 12 October 2021. MindaNews photo by FRENCIE CARREON

The ZCCCIFI said it already observed as early as May this year the disparity in fuel pump costs.

The high fuel prices, the group said, added to the cost of living and cost of doing business in Zamboanga City.

“It added difficulty to the many sufferings endured by the people of Zamboanga, especially in this time of pandemic,” said Soliven.

The chamber, in its resolution, pointed out that Zamboanga’s fuel price is more than five pesos per liter compared to other cities in Mindanao.

“The total monthly demand of Zamboanga City amounts to millions of liters; and that the cumulative difference that is drained from the local economy of Zamboanga City is tantamount to, if not outright, economic sabotage,” the ZCCCIFI said.

The EdCom chairman said the “deregulation [of petroleum prices] is not a license to charge exorbitantly with impunity.” He expressed hope that at some point, the government, or at least the DoE, would come in “to protect the interest of its citizenry.”

On September 20, another letter was sent by RDC IX Chairperson and Zamboanga del Sur Governor Victor Yu to Secretary Cusi and also to Philippine Competition Commissioner (PCC) Arsenio Balisacan this time asking the DoE and PCC to investigate the unusually high fuel pump prices in Zamboanga City.

Soliven expressed that national and local officials “seem oblivious that this has a great impact on our cost of doing business and competitive index.” (Frencie Carreon / MindaNews)