Drivers and passengers share the brunt of soaring fuel prices

ROUTINE BECOMES ORDEAL | Hundreds of commuters are forced to wait longer than usual for their ride in scorching heat along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City on Tuesday, a scene replicated in other parts of the metropolis, due to a shortage public utility vehicles (PUV). There was no transport strike, but jeepney group Piston said it had observed increasing numbers of PUV drivers choosing to quit their jobs as successive fuel price hikes slashed their incomes. (Photos by NIÑO JESUS ​​ORBETA/Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — Ethel Sorongon, a 2nd grade teacher at a public elementary school in Quezon City, was spending 5,000 pesos a month on fuel.

Sorongon’s home in Nagkaisang Nayon, Quezon City, is only about 7 kilometers from the school where she teaches, but she has invested in a car because “if I take the [usual route for commuters]I would be late for work.

But with the skyrocketing cost of petrol and diesel, she now has to budget P10,000 for fuel alone.

“Instead of saving the extra money from my [monthly] salary, there would be nothing left because my gas expenses have almost doubled,” she said in a telephone interview.

“It’s hard, especially since I’m a teacher,” Sorongon lamented, adding that if it weren’t for her husband’s help paying their monthly dues, she would have started commuting again.

However, commuters and utility drivers are no better off than those in Sorongon and are still suffering.

Along Commonwealth Avenue, one of Metro Manila’s main thoroughfares, long lines of commuters are common due to a lack of public utility vehicles (PVUs) and jeepneys, which a transportation group says , was the result of soaring fuel prices.

Nationwide (Piston) operator Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper noted that people were struggling to get a ride to work despite the government‘s Libreng Sakay scheme.

For Piston’s deputy general secretary, Ruben Baylon, it was their observation as transport workers, especially drivers, were forced out of their day jobs due to the continued rise in fuel prices.

He said the lack of SUVs and jeepneys could be caused by drivers choosing to quit because extra fuel costs have eaten up all their income.

This was exacerbated by commuters choosing to avail themselves of the “Libreng Sakay” scheme, which the Piston chief acknowledged as logical since passengers would save money on public transport.

“It is a heavy price that we take. None of us wanted this, but the drivers can’t afford it anymore,’ Baylon told the Inquirer, as he renewed their call for the fuel excise to be suspended and even the repeal of the Fuel Act oil deregulation.

Suspension of fuel tax

Various other groups have also urged the government to suspend fuel excise duties to help ease the burden of high oil prices on consumers.

However, President Rodrigo Duterte has stood firm in not suspending the tax despite the relentless rise in oil prices, Malacañang said on Tuesday.

Acting presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said Duterte would let the incoming administration decide whether to heed calls from various groups to suspend the excise tax.

“The position of the president in March, even his economic team, has not changed,” Andanar said during a briefing at the palace.

In March, Duterte rejected calls to suspend the excise on petroleum products and instead approved a subsidy of 200 pesos per month for each household.

Andanar pointed out that excise tax collections were needed to fund teachers’ salaries, the “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program and other government undertakings.

“We are going to let [the administration of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr.] to decide” on calls to suspend the fuel tax, he said.

In an interview with some media on May 26, Marcos Jr. said the government would find other ways to cushion the impact of rising fuel prices instead of suspending the excise duty on petroleum products.

Reluctant drivers

Senator Grace Poe on Tuesday called on the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to submit the list of approved names of recipients of the fuel subsidy in the public transportation sector amid of the last big time increase in the price of fuel.

Poe, chairman of the Senate Public Services Committee, was appalled that months of slow response from affected government agencies had pushed the nation’s public transportation sector over the edge.

“A number of drivers and operators (PUV) are set to stage a full-scale transport strike if the issue of rising oil prices is not sufficiently addressed,” he said. she said in a statement.

GETTING HIGHER A service attendant searches for a gas pump at a gas station along Edsa in Quezon City on Tuesday, the day oil companies implemented the latest in a series of price increases to the detriment of drivers and commuters.  —GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

GETTING HIGHER A service attendant searches for a gas pump at a gas station along Edsa in Quezon City on Tuesday, the day oil companies implemented the latest in a series of price increases to the detriment of drivers and commuters. —GRIG C. MONTEGRANDE

Poe lamented that the series of price increases for petroleum products began in January, while the government announced plans to pay fuel subsidies as early as February.

“Nearly half a year has passed without sufficient relief. We expect an immediate response from the government,” she said.

The senator recalled that she had fought for a fuel subsidy provision of 2.5 billion pesos for PUVs in the General Appropriations Act of 2022.

“We have lobbied fervently for the allocation of funds that our public transport drivers and PUV operators can use to help them weather crises, like the one we are going through right now,” she said.

Poe expressed disappointment that the fund allocation has not been fully disbursed even as the country faces a crisis of “epic proportions”.

Corrective Action

Soaring fuel prices have already pushed the inflation rate in May to a 42-month high of 5.4%, topping the upper end of the government’s 2-4% target range. It was the highest since November 2018.

While inflation is expected to rise further rather than subside for the rest of the year, the government has taken corrective measures to deal with the impact of rising prices on consumers.

President Duterte’s recent order extending reduced tariffs on pork and rice while reducing tariffs on corn and coal to allow more imports would increase food and energy supplies and help ease inflationary pressures, according to the Secretary for Socio-Economic Planning Karl Kendrick Chua.

Duterte issued Executive Order No. 171 to change tariff rates for pork, corn, rice and coal. It also temporarily eliminated the 7% import duty rate on coal – an important raw material in electricity generation – to help maintain or reduce electricity prices.

The government has also increased the total budget for targeted subsidies to 6.1 billion pesos to help cushion the impact of rising fuel prices on the most vulnerable.

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