AS OIL prices stay elevated in the world and local markets, Cebu City officials are scrambling to alleviate the plight of jeepney drivers as they also seek to avert a planned transport strike.

This, as the business sector also sounds the alarm on a possible power shortage in the summer if prices continue to stay high.

Cebu City Councilor James Cuenco said around 2,000 jeepney drivers in Cebu City may receive a fuel subsidy of one liter per day to counter the effects of the rising oil prices on their livelihood.

However, Cuenco told SunStar Cebu Tuesday, March 15, 2022, that he still has to consult Councilor Raymond Garcia, chairman of the city committee on budget and finance, on giving fuel subsidies to jeepney drivers.

Probably, they will issue fuel coupons that can be redeemed in select gas stations.

Cuenco said the City Council also passed a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte to consider taking away the value added tax on fuel prices to stem the price hikes.

Cuenco made the comment in response to the plan of transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (Piston) to hold a transport strike to protest the rising oil prices.

Cuenco, chairman of the committee on transportation, said they can only do so much because they cannot stop the increase in global oil prices.

Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said he would coordinate with the Cebu Provincial Capitol in handling the transport strike being planned by the drivers and operators of public utility vehicles.

“I will try to call the governor and discuss the matter with her as one Cebu island,” Rama said. “Let us not talk about them really staging a strike. Rather what is the best move would be to avert what they are planning,” he said.

Prepare for strike

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) in Central Visayas called on local government units (LGU) to prepare for the transport strike.

LTFRB 7 Director Eduardo Montealto told SunStar Cebu Tuesday that their office will not intervene if transport groups unanimously decide not to serve their routes.

Instead, Montealto said, LGUs should deploy their vehicular assets such as buses and coasters in the event of a transport strike, while private firms should hire shuttle services so their operations aren’t disrupted.

He said it is the right of the transport sector to air their concerns as long as it is conducted in a peaceful manner. Montealto said transport groups should secure the necessary permits to avoid commotions.

There are already drivers and operators who opted not to ply the roads due to the excessive fuel prices, said Montealto.

Fuel subsidy

Montealto assured drivers and operators that the government will distribute P6,500 worth of fuel subsidies soon. There will be two waves of subsidies to be given, the first for the month of March and the second in April.

Montealto said the Department of Budget and Management has already downloaded P2.5 billion to the Department of Transportation for the fuel subsidy program. But the regional office is still waiting for some documents to be accomplished for the subsidies to be rolled out.

The fuel subsidies will be downloaded to the Pantawid Pasada Cards registered under the name of the PUV’s operator.

Hoarding

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy (DOE) warned retail outlets against hoarding petroleum products in times of tight supply as the Philippines braces for a possible fuel scarcity.

Retail outlets caught violating Presidential Decree 1865 prohibiting the hoarding of petroleum products will be subjected to five years’ imprisonment or fines of up to P50,000 or both, the DOE said in an advisory.

“Hoarding of petroleum products for retail is generally defined as refusal, or failure, to sell to the general public even when supply is available, and the customer has the ability to pay in cash,” read the advisory.

DOE Director for Central Visayas Russ Mark Gamallo told SunStar Tuesday that the spike in fuel prices is caused by several factors including sanctions imposed against oil producing countries like Iran and Venezuela and lately, Russia, after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last Feb. 24.

This has affected the fuel price in the world market.

Although he says the Philippines does not directly import fuel from Russia, its refineries, which are its main fuel suppliers, such as China, Japan and South Korea, buy fuel from Russia.

Russia is the world’s third-largest oil producer.

Gamallo foresees fuel prices increasing more in the coming months, and the Philippines feeling its direct impact starting April.

He advised consumers to be efficient in using petroleum products, such as liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). He also encouraged the public to buy petroleum products only from accredited retail outlets.

“They need to weigh the LPG before buying to make sure that it is exactly 11kg as all the retail outlets are required to have a weighing scale, so they can avoid being shortchanged,” said Gamallo.

The price of an 11-kilogram cylinder of LPG this month has ranged from P900 to P1,000 compared to its previous price range of P600 to P700 in May 2020.

Temporary

The Cebu Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI), however, believes that the impact of the increase in petroleum product prices in the country will only be temporary.

CCCI president Charles Kenneth Co told SunStar Cebu Tuesday, that peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are making progress and global oil prices have fallen below $120 per barrel from the peak price of $130 per barrel two weeks ago when the war broke out.

On Tuesday, March 15, fuel companies implemented another increase in prices of oil products, the 11th consecutive week of increase in oil prices this year.

An additional of P13.15 per liter on diesel, P7.10 per liter on gasoline, and P10.50 per liter for kerosene set the record for the highest increases in fuel prices in the country’s history.

Co said the Visayan Electric Company has already warned the business sector that a power shortage could happen during the summer season due to the oil price hike.

In the meantime, businesses that require large amounts of power can take advantage of the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, said Co.

With this, businesses can directly source their needs for electrical power from distributors without relying on Visayan Electric. (IRT, GDC, HIC, PAC / TPT)