By AILA JOSOL, MA. KATHLEN HITOSIS and JEANNELLE UNGRIANO
MANILA – Progressive transport group Pinagkaisang Samahan ng mga Tsuper at Operator Nationwide (PISTON) staged a street protest last Tuesday, October 24, in selected places in Metro Manila, Baguio, and Cebu City to urge the government to act on the enduring issue of oil price hikes which drastically affect the livelihood of public utility jeepney (PUJ) drivers and operators.
“These actions are part of expressing our anger. PUJ drivers and citizens are outraged because of the government’s lack of action, which should be one of the things the government should look into,” PISTON National President Mody Floranda said in an interview.
Floranda expressed his dissatisfaction with the shifts of rises in the price of oil on top of the impending deadline of the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program (PUVMP) on December 31, 2023.
He explained, for instance, that nearly P400 ($7.04) to P500 ($8.81) would be deducted from the jeepney driver’s daily income for each oil price pump charged per liter, amounting to a staggering P15,000 ($264.19) a month. This could have been used to supply the basic needs of their families, especially food. However, instead of looking into the problem, the government failed to act on this matter, making the condition of ordinary PUJ drivers even worse.
On the table
In a press release, PISTON demands for the Marcos Jr. administration to immediately repeal the Oil Deregulation Law and push for the Petroleum Regulatory Council as a regulatory measure on the local oil industry.
The war between Israel and Palestine has triggered regional unrest in the Middle East, disrupting oil supply from the world’s largest oil-producing area, it said.
Hence, PISTON eyes for stricter precautions on oil regulation in the country, which “oil companies and cartels could exploit” to pump up oil prices.
Keeping the record
According to data from the Department of Energy (DOE), the October 17 price adjustments led to a year-to-date, per-liter net rise of P12.80 ($0.23) for gasoline, P10.40 ($0.18) for diesel, and P4.99 ($0.09) for kerosene. Also, DOE stated in its report that the oil price adjustment was due to decreasing oil stock in the United States.
This year’s oil price increases and rollback series resemble a tug-of-war game—back and forth—to which the PUJ sector calls for a concrete solution.
CNN Philippines reports that local companies started to increase the oil rate per-liter of gasoline and diesel by P0.80 ($0.014) and P2.70 ($0.05) on October 24, such as Sea Oil, Caltex, Phoenix Petroleum, PTT Philippines, Petro Gazz, Petron, and Flying V.
In an interview, Hovito Pulmon, 58, expressed dismay, saying, “It seems like they are just playing with the PUJ operators and drivers,” referring to the spike in oil prices following a three-week continuous rollback.
Jeepney drivers and operators feared the approaching PUVMP, but even more so of what would happen to them if they lost their jobs.
Behind the unheard plea
A P6,500 ($114.48) fuel subsidy for Filipino jeepney drivers is never enough, said Reymond Samaoang, 39, who has worked as a jeepney driver for 21 years.
The Department of Budget and Management allotted a P3 billion ($52.8M) budget to aid 1.36 millions jeepney drivers, operators, and other service transportation which started on September 13, 2023, because of the hefty oil price. Yet, for Reymond, who does not own a jeep, this has not been the case. The fuel allowance was split between the operator and him; he only received P3,000 ($52.84), which is not enough to put food for a family of six. Still, after accepting the money, Reymond bought his family’s basic needs and spent the remaining money on his children’s school allowance.
Not all jeepney drivers received the promised P6,500 ($114.48) since only a few operators cooperated to help their drivers with the fuel subsidy. Pulmon, a jeepney driver for 20 years, for example, did not obtain at least half of the fuel subsidy from his operator. Behind this program, many jeepney drivers can grant or not be granted the said allowance, depending on their operators.
Samaoang’s daily income with a deducted day-to-day boundary runs from P300 ($5.28) to P400 ($7.04) for a 15-hour trip around Quezon City.
“Even if I’m tired of finding another way to earn money for my children’s needs, I’m still moving forward for their future,” Samaoang said.
He added that their protest would continue if the government turns a deaf ear to their plea.
Another concern of PISTON is the threat they received from the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board to cancel their franchise if they continue the transport strike which Manibela staged.
“That’s why we continue this protest, and we never stop until the government takes action; if they decide to cancel our franchise, how about us? How about my children?” Reymond declared.
PISTON made clear that every jeepney driver’s simple desire to stop the traditional jeepney phase-out and for the government to give them a clear plan on how to help them to regulate oil increase rather than giving a band-aid solution like the fuel allowance.
“We want to amend the Oil Deregulation Law since it tortures us, jeepney drivers; the market decides how much consumers should pay, and how about us who suffer from this?” Pulmon pointed out. It is helpful for the drivers to remove or reduce the percentage of value-added tax (VAT) that causes the increasing crude prices.
As the deadline for traditional jeepney consolidation approaches, Floranda, PISTON national president, urged the government to junk the program. It will only prolong the suffering of jeepney drivers who have stated that they would have a lower income with high maintenance costs once they upgrade to modern jeepneys.
Also, he expounded that the one who would benefit the PUVMP are the major suppliers, which are Japan and China.
Aside from an immediate appeal to issue an executive order suspending the petroleum product tax implementation, PISTON demanded that legislators in Congress and the Senate repeal the Oil Deregulation Law.
“Of course, we also demand the abolition of [Department of Transportation Order No.] 2017-011. This is the government’s bogus and fake modernization scheme” because it never helps PUJ drivers, operators, or even the economy. If not, progressive transportation groups will continue to take steps up to the national level,” he added.
Floranda also encouraged commuters to support jeepney organizations, as their fight benefits not only jeepney drivers and operators but also every Filipino suffering from inflation and the high standards of living. (RTS, RVO)