President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III cannot afford to rest on his high trust ratings, a coalition against oil price increases launched on Monday warned.
If left unaddressed, the rising cost of fuel may see Aquino's popularity disappear, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teddy Casino said. He said rising fuel issues cause hunger and is not just a "political issue."
Barangay chairman Francisco Mariezeta III from Sampaloc, Manila, told reporters he is opposing oil price hikes because they were affecting the peace and order situation in his village. He said he had to mediate between a husband and wife who were fighting because there was no dinner on the table. The wife said she was not given enough money to buy cooking gas.
"It's almost election time, isn't it? This is an issue among the voters," he said.
"Not everything can be based on trust ratings," Casino said, referring to a Pulse Asia survey released last week that showed most respondents trusted and approved of the President's performance in the last three months.
Casino, one of the convenors of the multi-sectoral Coalition Against Oil Price Increases (CAOPI), said governmentthe must address rising fuel price. According to the latest Department of Energy price monitor, diesel sells at P46.30 to P49.30 per liter. Gasoline, meanwhile, sells at P55.05 to P61.72 per liter.
"This time, it isn't just Piston (Pinag-isang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide), not just transport groups (that oppose the price increases)," he said. He said CAOPI is the broadest multi-sectoral alliance against oil prices since the late 1990s, when the Oil Deregulation Law was passed.
The group is calling for a stop in oil-price hikes and the suspension, lowering, or removal of the 12-percent value-added tax on oil.
Pio Granada of the National Economic Protectionism Association, who read the coalition's joint statement, said there is a need for a "nationalized oil industry free from foreign monopoly control."
Piston president George San Mateo, also with CAOPI, said the deregulation of oil prices--letting market forces dictate prices--could lead to a deregulation of commuter fares as well. "We already have semi-deregulation," he said, saying the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) has been issuing provisional fare increases to adjust to rising fuel prices.
He said that commuters will be hurt most by rising fuel prices.
Ricky Papa, president of the Alliance of Concerned Truck Owners and Operators (ACTOO), warned that the trucking sector may go out of business if pump prices keep going up. "We are a dying industry," he said. If that happens, he said, it will cost more to ferry goods across the country.
"This government cannot be like a funeral service, making money as people die," he said.
"This is no longer the time for 'Noynoying'," Casino said.
Other critics of government's seeming inaction against high fuel prices had harsher words.
"The Aquino administration's inaction is a form of corruption," Zambales Representative Mitos Magsaysay, a member of the House minority bloc, said at the same press conference. She said the government has been allowing petroleum companies Petron, Pilipinas Shell, and Chevron to rake in "windfall profits."
This was a sentiment echoed by Leon Peralta of the Anti-Trapo (Traditional Politician) Movement. He said that the issue of oil prices are wrapped up in graft and corruption. "We will investigate this, and if we find proof, we will charge people in the conspiracy to keep oil prices high," he said.
Anakpawis party-list Representative Rafael Mariano said allowing prices to rise even higher would be "a grave crime against the people."
Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, said the government cannot say it is powerless to keep oil prices low.
He said it should use its power to protect the needs and rights of consumers. "The government cannot be helpless," he said.
What is being done?
Members of CAOPI at the House of Representatives already have pending proposals to review the Oil Deregulation Law and to scrap VAT on oil. These have yet to be heard by the House committee on energy chaired by Batanes Representative Henedina Abad.
"Maybe the committee lacks energy," Mariano joked.
Even before the committee could hold hearings on the Oil Deregulation Law, news reports quote House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as saying his colleagues are cool towards removing VAT on oil products.
"We haven't even discussed it yet. It's uncool not to address this problem," Magsaysay said.
CAOPI is calling on motorists and residents to hold a noise barrage from 5pm to 6pm on March 30 to pressure Malacanang.
"Malacanang shouldn't wait for more people to take action. This is basically people power already," Casino said.
He promised "coordinated actions" until the Aquino administration addresses rising oil prices.