MALACAÑANG on Saturday thumbed down calls for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to personally intervene in the row between Pilipinas Shell and the Bureau of Customs to avert a possible oil crisis.

Cabinet Secretary Silvestre Bello III maintained they will leave it to Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes to work out the matter, even as he appealed to the public not to panic.

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“I’m very sure it will not be necessary for the President to intervene, Secretary Reyes will see to it the possibility of oil shortage will not happen in our country,” Bello said over radio interview.

He added that the Palace has so far been pleased with Reyes’s handling of the situation.

“We have Secretary Reyes who is handling the situation. I’m very sure, I’m very confident the issue will be resolved in a manner that will prevent any shortage of gas or oil supply. Huwag tayo mag-panic (Let us not panic).”

On Monday, Malacañang ordered the Department of Energy to find ways to avert a possible fuel shortage should the Customs bureau seize P43 billion in assets of oil refiner Pilipinas Shell.

Bello said President Arroyo’s order to Reyes is that there will be no shortage of food or fuel.

Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp. warned of a supply shortage and a possible shutdown of its Batangas refinery if Customs seizes its raw materials and imported products.

Reyes confirmed the fears and noted that Shell has an over 30 percent share of the market and is “second only to Petron.”

The Bureau of Customs had said it will seize all future shipments of Shell estimated to be $923 million arriving February up to May to answer for alleged deficiency taxes covering imports from 2004 to 2009 of catalytic cracked gasoline (CCG) and light catalytic cracked gasoline (LCCG).

Shell disputed the tax assessments at the Court of Tax Appeals where it contended its CCG and LCCG imports are merely raw materials for the production of unleaded gasoline.

It also argued that Customs had no basis in its assessment since excise taxes are supposed to be levied only on finished products for consumption and sale in the domestic market.

Reyes said his department and the Bureau of Internal Revenue earlier issued the same position that Shell has no tax deficiency from its import of gasoline blending stocks to meet Clean Air Act requirements. (JMR/Sunnex)