Consumer issues, Privatization, Water crisis

PH water rates among Asia’s highest

Don’t be surprised if soon we will not just have the most expensive electricity rates in the region but the most exorbitant water rates as well (Photo from gmanetwork.com)

Because of privatization, don’t be surprised if soon the Philippines will have not just  the most expensive electricity rates in Asia but the most exorbitant water rates as well (Photo from gmanetwork.com)

We already know that power rates in the Philippines are the most expensive in Asia. What we do not know yet which will certainly make our collective blood pressure rise is that water rates in the country are also among the highest in the region. Using the same 2011 survey conducted by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) on power rates in major Asian cities, I found out that the water rates in Cebu City and Manila rank fourth and fifth, respectively behind Sydney, Singapore and Jakarta. Yes, we are paying more expensive water than more developed cities like Hong Kong, New Delhi, Beijing, Seoul and others. (See Chart 1, click on image to enlarge) (Download the JETRO survey here)

ph water rates - chart 1

I bring this up after hearing the news that the private water concessionaires of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) have been allowed again to jack up their rates next year. A report by the BusinessWorld said that by January 2013, the ordinary customers of Maynilad Water Services Inc. or those with a monthly consumption of 30 cubic meters will see their bill increase by ₱22.52. Meanwhile, the customers of Manila Water Co. Inc. with the same level of monthly consumption will bear a ₱6-spike in their water bill. What a way to greet the New Year for some 13.3 million people in Metro Manila and nearby provinces who get their water from Maynilad and Manila Water.

Prior to these latest increases, Maynilad has already increased its average tariff from ₱4.96 per cubic meter when it first took over the MWSS’s west zone service area in 1997 to ₱32.92 this year. During the same period, Manila Water which services the east zone has hiked its average tariff from ₱2.32 per cubic meter to ₱27.44. This means water rates have already ballooned by 564% to 1,083% since the MWSS was privatized 15 years ago. (See Chart 2, click on image to enlarge)

ph water rates - chart 2

Like in the case of the power sector, privatization and the numerous anomalous perks granted to corporations are behind the incessant rise in our water bills. The concession agreement between the MWSS and the private water concessionaires allows automatic adjustment to protect the profits the Manny V. Pangilinan group (Maynilad) and the Ayala group (Manila Water). In case you did not know, these big business groups with close ties to President Benigno Aquino III do not only control our cellphone networks, roads, electricity, hospitals and soon our LRT and MRT, but also our water.

Anyway, what are some of these automatic adjustments? Take the case of the most recent water rate hike. Maynilad and Manila Water are increasing their basic charge to reflect the movement in the inflation rate as provided under their respective concession agreements with the MWSS. The said agency’s Regulatory Office allowed a 3.2% adjustment in the consumer price index (CPI) to be applied to the private water concessionaires’ current basic charge. What does this mean? It’s a double whammy. Inflation rises because the costs of basic goods and services like food and utilities have gone up. And then water rates will further rise because of higher inflation. Another is the foreign currency differential adjustment (FCDA), which covers fluctuations in the exchange rate and affect the foreign-denominated loans of the concessionaires.

That’s what the water privatization contract stipulates. It doesn’t make sense to us poor consumers but it makes perfect sense for the Pangilinans and the Ayalas. Just look at their soaring profits to see why. In the first nine months of the 2012, Maynilad has amassed more than ₱5 billion in profits (13% higher than last year) while Manila Water has raked in ₱3.9 billion in profits (26% higher than last year).

Meanwhile, the water distribution system in Cebu City which has the fourth most costly rates in Asia is being managed by the Metro Cebu Water District (MCWD). Though not yet privatized, MCWD like the rest of the other 860 water districts nationwide has also been under constant threat of privatization. This was the intention of Senator Edgardo Angara’s Senate Bill (SB) 2997. Fortunately, the proposal has been effectively derailed by the strong campaigning of the Water System Employees’ Response (WATER), a national federation of water district employees. But the bill will certainly be revived after the midterm elections.

In the meantime, the water privateers continue to make inroads through other means. Earlier this year, the provincial government of Cebu has privatized its bulk water system through an agreement with guess who? Manila Water. Manny Pangilinan Manila Water has been on a buying spree of potable water systems around the country. Aside from the MWSS east zone and the Cebu bulk water project, his group it also controls the Boracay Island Water Co., the Laguna Water Co. (servicing the towns of Biñan, Cabuyao and Sta. Rosa) and the Clark Water Corp. in Pampanga.

The bad news is that the buying spree of our potable water systems and even water resources itself by the Pangilinans, the Ayalas, etc. and the consequent soaring user fees and marginalization of the poor will not end any time soon. In fact, the direction is the further expansion and consolidation of wealth and power of these big business groups through more privatization under the public-private partnership (PPP) of Mr. Aquino.

Just recently, the PPP Center announced that the administration’s first PPP water project – the New Centennial Water Source Project – is already in progress. This mega-project costs about ₱25 billion and is seen to provide an additional water source for Metro Manila. Needless to say, a project this big to be undertaken by a profit-oriented consortium will translate to even higher user fees for us under the privatization principle of full-cost recovery. Government has lined up a total of 14 PPP projects that could affect our access to water including four multi-purpose projects or the construction of dams for hydropower, irrigation and domestic water uses which cost some ₱50.75 billion; three hydropower projects, ₱39.24 billion; and three projects for potable water; ₱26.47 billion. The costs of the four other PPP projects have yet to be determined. (See Table at the end of this article)

These are big-ticket items that will surely provide a bottomless well of profits for those who will bag them, which are most likely the same elite families and their foreign funders and partners that have been taking advantage of past privatization projects and Aquino’s current PPP program. For us, it simply means even further exploitation and marginalization as most of us will find it increasingly harder to afford our basic human right to water for domestic use, for our livelihood and decent living.

Don’t be surprised if soon we will have not just the most expensive electricity rates in the region but the most exorbitant water rates as well. ###

Click on table to enlarge

ph water rates - table

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Consumer issues, Cronyism & patronage, Privatization, SONA 2012

Sona and high prices

Issues that matter to ordinary folks such as how Meralco and other big companies owned by Aquino’s super-rich relatives and friends are oppressing the people with skyrocketing fees were left unarticulated in the Sona (Photo from Pinoy Weekly)

The third State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III lasted 1 hour and 39 minutes. It was his longest Sona so far. But the 8,890-word speech never made reference to the perennial problem of consumers – the ever rising costs of electricity, petroleum, water and other basic goods and services. In fact, the issue of high prices and what his administration plans to do to address it has never been a topic in Aquino’s annual Sona.

Read the full transcript of Sona here and the English translation here

The non-mention of the problem of high prices was made more conspicuous by the almost simultaneous increases in electricity rates, water rates and oil prices just days before the Sona. The Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), the country’s largest power distributor, hiked its distribution charge by 29.1 centavos per kilowatt-hour (kWh) and its generation charge by 32 centavos; private water concessionaires Manila Water Co. and Maynilad Water Services Inc. increased their rates by 39 centavos and 89 centavos per cubic meter, respectively. Oil companies, meanwhile, have increased the pump price of unleaded gasoline by ₱4.35 per liter and diesel by ₱3.10 after three straight weeks of price hikes this month, including the latest round hours after Sona.

Costs have been unjustly increasing since long ago due to programs initiated by Aquino’s predecessors, namely the deregulation of the oil industry in 1996-1998 and the privatization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) in 1997 under former Pres. Fidel Ramos, and the privatization of the National Power Corp. (Napocor) in 2001 under Mrs. Gloria Arroyo.

However, Aquino is still accountable for continuing these programs and not even bothering to at least review them despite their harmful impact on consumers. In fact, the President even made these programs the centerpiece of his development plan such as the public-private partnership (PPP) scheme.

And if you were wondering why the triple whammy of power, water and oil price hikes did not merit even a single sentence in Aquino’s Sona, or why addressing the issue of high prices has never been an agenda of the President, for that matter, this previous post might help enlighten you.

Indeed, the families running the country’s largest utilities and burdening the consumers with exorbitant prices are among the closest allies and long-time cronies of the Aquino clan. Petron, the biggest oil firm in the Philippines, is majority-owned by San Miguel Corp. (SMC) of Aquino’s maternal uncle Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr. while the Ayalas are connected with Pilipinas Shell; Meralco is controlled by SMC, the Lopezes and Manny V. Pangilinan’s group; and Manila Water is controlled by the Ayalas while Maynilad is co-owned by Pangilinan and the Consunjis.

Aquino’s longest Sona yet mentioned many indicators to highlight the supposedly improving economy such as credit rating upgrade, stock exchange performance, and growth in the gross domestic product (GDP), among others. But these indicators are not only abstract for the ordinary folks; they also do not mean increased economic opportunities. They are, however, indicators of how big business is enjoying a favorable environment under Aquino, reaping whatever little wealth is being squeezed from the pre-industrial economy.

Meanwhile, the issues that matter to us such as how Meralco, Petron, Shell Maynilad, Manila Water and other big companies owned by Aquino’s super-rich relatives and friends are oppressing us with skyrocketing prices and rates were left unarticulated by the landlord President.

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Consumer issues, Power industry, Privatization

Mindanao power is more expensive than Asia’s major cities

Mindanao power is more expensive than electricity rates in major cities in Asia but Aquino wants the region to pay more to supposedly address its power crisis (Photo from manilastandardtoday.com)

Mindanao must pay more to end the rotating brownouts, the President declared in his Power Summit speech. The region, said Aquino, needs more power supply but “cheap” power rates are discouraging private investors from building new power plants to meet Mindanao’s growing energy needs.

Pay more

“But how can you entice anyone to invest—and this is the question—if their generating cost is more than their selling cost?” Aquino, in his speech, asked. “The simple truth is: we can have a lot more energy, but we have to provide the incentives for businesses to come here to put up those plants. Therefore, there will be a change in what we have to pay. We will have to pay, perhaps, a bit more… You have to pay more because this is the reality of economics… Everything has its price. We have to pay a real price for a real service. There are actually just only two choices: pay a little more for energy, or live with the lack of energy and the continuation of the rotating brownouts.”

Cheap rates?

Aquino must apologize to the people of Mindanao for blaming them for the power crisis and accusing them of being spoiled by “cheap” power rates. Aquino must apologize for being shamelessly insensitive to the plight of Mindanao where 36% of the country’s poorest families live (based on the latest official poverty statistics released by the National Statistical Coordination Board or NSCB).

The premise that Mindanao has been unjustifiably enjoying “cheap” power rates is totally wrong. True, Mindanao has lower power rates than Luzon and Visayas. Latest available comparative data show that the region has an effective residential rate of P6.69 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Luzon has P9.84 while Visayas has P8.19. (Data from 18th EPIRA Implementation Status Report, which may be downloaded here)

Most expensive in Asia

Aquino, however, did not mention one very important fact. Mindanao power is “cheap” only because the country has the highest electricity rates in Asia. In a survey conducted by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), Manila posted the most expensive residential rate (P10.16 per kWh), while Cebu (P8.39) is ranked third (Singapore ranked second with P8.83). JETRO conducted the survey in January 2011 to compare investment-related costs, including electricity, in 31 major cities in Asia and Oceania. (See the table at the end of this article for the complete list; Download the JETRO survey here)

While Aquino is blaming the power crisis on the people of Mindanao for being pampered by “cheap” power, Mindanao is actually paying much more than most major cities in Asia. Did you know that residential consumers in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), Cagayan de Oro City, Northern Mindanao, and the Davao and CARAGA regions are paying twice the electricity rates of residents in Seoul and Beijing? Except for CARAGA, all the Mindanao regions I mentioned also have more expensive residential power rates than Hong Kong. These areas in Mindanao, plus Cotabato City, Iligan City, SOCCKSARGEN, and the Zamboanga Peninsula all have higher residential rates than major Asian capitals like Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, New Delhi, Bangkok, and Shanghai, among others. All in all, Mindanao is paying an average of P1.82 per kWh more for electricity than the collective average residential rate of the 31 major cities in Asia and Oceania surveyed by JETRO.

I summarized these findings in the chart below, which culled data on residential rates from the JETRO survey and data on average residential rates of private distribution utilities (PDUs) and average systems rates of electric cooperatives (ECs) from the 18th EPIRA report. The red bars represent Mindanao regions and cities.

Poorest region

Note that Mindanao has an average official poverty incidence of 33.5% of families (the national average is 20.9%). The country’s three poorest regions are in Mindanao – CARAGA (39.8%), ARMM (38.1%), and Zamboanga Peninsula (36.6%). ARMM does not only have the most expensive power rates in Mindanao, it also has (consequently) the highest cost of living (more than P1,287 based on the family living wage released by the NSCB in July 2008) among all regions in the Philippines, while the minimum wage there is just P232 (or just 18% of the cost of living). Amid this condition, the people of Mindanao are being forced to pay for electricity that is way beyond the rates in Asia’s richest cities. Yet Aquino wants Mindanao to shell out more money to supposedly solve its power crisis.

Blame EPIRA

Mindanao has lower rates than Luzon and Visayas not only because it sources its energy supply from cheaper hydropower but also because the region has been relatively and temporarily spared from the privatization and deregulation drive under EPIRA. State-controlled/owned installed capacity in Mindanao is still about 82% of the total (as of 2010 data from the DOE), compared to 18% in Luzon and 36% in Visayas where most power plants have already been privatized and are now controlled by the country’s profit-seeking “power lords”. Furthermore, unlike Luzon and Visayas, Mindanao does not have an EPIRA-created wholesale electricity spot market (WESM), which has only become a venue for price manipulation and speculation by power monopolies, sparking off wild spikes in power rates.

But EPIRA is also to blame for Mindanao’s energy insecurity. While government retained control over most of the installed and dependable capacity in Mindanao, it did not invest in additional capacity to meet the growing power demand of the region. Government abandoned its strategic role to design and implement power development projects consistent with a long-term industrialization plan and instead focused on selling the assets of the National Power Corporation (NAPOCOR) to private investors as mandated under EPIRA.

Reverse privatization

To fully solve the energy insecurity of Mindanao and the rest of the country as well as the problem of expensive electricity, there is no other recourse but for the state to take over. Aquino could no longer use the excuse that doing so will just further bankrupt the government. Despite the EPIRA, NAPOCOR remains trapped in deep debt (read here). So instead of further wasting limited public resources on a flawed energy program – which only made electricity bills more exorbitant and power supply more insecure – government should start reversing the privatization and deregulation of the energy sector. #

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Consumer issues, Oil deregulation

Join “people power” vs. high oil prices and Noynoying, join CAOPI

The media called it People Power against oil price hikes. And maybe it is, considering how the issue of very high oil prices has united various groups from a wide political spectrum. From militant labor and transport to businessmen, from progressive lawmakers to the more traditional legislators, from Church leaders to the radical youth, from civil society to national democratic organizations. Looking at the lineup of the convenors and supporters behind the Coalition Against Oil Price Increases (CAOPI), one would get a sense of broadness that could resemble those of the movements which toppled two regimes.

Broad coalition

CAOPI was launched last Monday (March 26) in a press conference at the UP campus in Diliman. Convenors and supporters who were present include the progressive bloc in Congress led by partylist representatives Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna, Ka Paeng Mariano of Anakpawis, and Raymond Palatino of Kabataan; Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, one of the most vocal critics of the Aquino administration;  former legislator and now publisher Jacinto Paras; Marikina City councilor Jojo Banzon; Alliance of Concerned Truck Owners and Operators (ACTOO) President Ricky Papa; a representative of National Economic Protectionism Association (NEPA) President Bayan dela Cruz; UP Professor and VP for Public Affairs Danny Arao; Anti-Trapo Movement President Leon Peralta; Francis Mariazeta III, a barangay chairman in Manila; and think tank IBON Foundation Executive Director Sonny Africa. They were joined by national leaders of organizations under the multisectoral Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), including militant labor Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU), transport group Piston, fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, urban poor group Kadamay, women’s group Gabriela, youth groups Anakbayan and National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP).

Other personalities who joined the coalition or expressed support but were not present during the launch are Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (PCCI) Donald Dee, National Council for Commuter Protection (NCCP) President Elvira Medina, and Manila City Councilor DJ Bagatsing. CAOPI convenors also include members of the Catholic and Protestant clergy, union presidents of the some of the country’s largest companies, as well as student councils of several universities in Metro Manila. (Download the initial list of CAOPI’s convenors and supporters here)

Inaction, crime against the people, too

CAOPI is not calling for the ouster of the Aquino administration. Its raison d’etre is fairly modest – that is for the President to recognize the worsening problem of high oil prices and concretely do something to address it. In its unity statement, the people and groups behind CAOPI said that they are “alarmed and enraged by the inaction of President Benigno Aquino III amid the spate of oil price increases.” The coalition demands that “government immediately intervene to stop the unreasonable oil price hikes, bring down the prices of petroleum products, and control oil prices.”

Edwin Lacierda, Aquino’s arrogant spokesman, as expected dismissed the newly-formed group, insisting that government is addressing the problem. “Kung ayaw n’yong makinig, ano’ng magagawa namin? Kung ayaw nilang maniwala, ano’ng magagawa namin?”

But the simplicity of its message and the concreteness and more importantly, the legitimacy of its demands – amid escalating fuel prices and popular perception of Noynoying – give CAOPI the vast potential to steadily grow and persist, yes, like People Power. Not even the vaunted high popularity rating of Aquino will endure the groundswell of protests and social unrest if government will continue to ignore the problem and insist on its problematic policies like the Oil Deregulation Law and the 12% value added tax (VAT). Note that surveys also show the deteriorating public perception on Aquino’s inaction on high oil prices (for instance, read here).

The Yellow crowd may argue that it is baseless to invoke People Power against Aquino because unlike Marcos and Erap, he is not corrupt. In fact, he is going after Gloria Arroyo, Renato Corona, and their cohorts in plundering the nation. These people are plunderers and they should be punished (although it remains to be seen if Aquino will go all the way in punishing their corruption even if it means undermining the status quo that serves the political elite like Aquino). But going after Arroyo while tolerating and legitimizing the bigger plunderers like the foreign oil companies and their local partners is also a crime against the people. Insisting on collecting the VAT on oil at the great expense of the people is a crime as grave as, if not worse than, collecting tongpats from government projects.

Just and legitimate

CAOPI’s demands and proposals are just and resonate the sentiments of our people. It said that the Aquino administration’s excuse that it is helpless amid escalating fuel prices is unacceptable as it argued that concrete steps can be immediately taken such as: Imposing a moratorium on more oil price hikes, which it said the President can do due to the extraordinary situation of high oil prices undermining public and national interests; immediately bringing down oil prices by removing, suspending or reducing the regressive VAT on petroleum products; and addressing overpricing by oil companies and regulating local prices by and repealing the oppressive Oil Deregulation Law. It challenged President Aquino to exercise political will and implement these reforms to protect the interest of ordinary consumers and the domestic economy. (Download the CAOPI unity statement here)

The group is not asking the people to swamp Edsa to pressure the President to take decisive, pro-people steps against high oil prices, well not yet. But it is asking the public to participate in a series of actions that will force Aquino to listen and do something, beginning with a coordinated noise barrage on March 30. CAOPI declared that it will continue to pressure Aquino and the entire government until they address the urgent problem of excessive oil prices.

Join CAOPI

No group, including the Aquino clique, has a monopoly over People Power, which in its simplest form is about the people asserting its sovereign power to determine which policies best serve their welfare and interests. In demanding that Aquino reverse its position on the VAT and the Oil Deregulation Law and mobilizing the broadest support possible, CAOPI is indeed exercising People Power.

If you wish to become a member or supporter of CAOPI, you may contact its Secretariat at caopi.secretariat@gmail.com and include your name in its Unity Statement. You may also visit the website of Bayan (www.bayan.org) for updates and more information. #

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Consumer issues, Fiscal issues, Oil deregulation

Mar Roxas: From Mr. Palengke to Mr. Perwisyo

Roxas’s 180-degree turn on the issue of oil VAT is yet another proof that the supposed change the Aquino administration has been peddling is nothing but an illusion (Photo from plurk.com)

On the heels of the successful nationwide people’s protest against high oil prices last March 15, Malacañang reaffirmed its position not to lift the 12% value-added tax (VAT) on oil. One of the administration officials who immediately articulated the Palace stand was Mar Roxas, secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC). Defending the oil VAT, Roxas said that revenues generated by the controversial tax “are being used to render services to the public”. “It’s easy to say ‘stop collecting taxes’ but this would mean that a particular government service will be affected,” Roxas argued.

Mar column

It’s amazing how fast Roxas changed his mind about the oil VAT. To those who have a short memory, let me refresh your recollection by quoting portions of Roxas’s column Mr. Palengke that the tabloid Abante used to publish. The opinion piece, entitled “$100 kada bariles”, was published by the popular daily in its Jan. 8, 2008 issue. It was Roxas’s reaction to the then escalating prices of oil that for the first time breached the $100-a barrel mark.

(Click on image to download full article)

“Hindi na po normal ang sitwasyon natin ngayon. Alam nating ang langis ay talagang nakakaapekto sa lahat ng aspeto ng pamumuhay: transportasyon, pagkain, kuryente, manufacturing ng mga produkto, at marami pang iba. Kaya sa bawat pagtaas ng presyo ng langis, sumusunod naman ang presyo ng iba pang produkto at serbisyo. Nanganganib talaga ang bulsa ni Juan dela Cruz. Maikli na ang kanyang pisi, lalo pa itong iikli.

Naaalala ko, noong kakatapos lang na ipasa ang Expanded Value-Added Tax Law noong 2005, sumipa ang presyo ng krudo mula $36 kada bariles hanggang $56, at natakot tayo noon na sumipa pa ito sa $75 kada bariles.

Ngayon, $100 na, ang layo na sa dating mga presyo at kailangan na talaga ang parehong mga agaran at pangmatagalang solusyon sa umaalagwang presyo ng langis. Kailangan na ng political will. Walang lugar para sa mga “token-ism,” o mga pakitang tao. Kung talagang ginugusto ng pamahalaan na makatulong sa ating mga kababayan, isang malinaw at kongkretong hakbang na maisasagawa ay ang agarang pagsuspinde sa EVAT sa langis at mga produktong petrolyo.

Agarang ginhawa sa halagang P4 kada litro ng diesel o P60 kada tangke ng LPG ang maidudulot nito. Kung gusto talaga ng pamahalaan na mapaginhawa ang buhay ng ating mga kababayan, sana’y suportahan nila ang ating panukala.

Hanggang ngayon, tila ba hindi pa rin nagbabagong-loob ang administrasyon dito. Nakakalungkot, dahil P20-30 bilyon lamang ang mawawala sa pamahalaan sa anim na buwang suspensiyon ng EVAT sa langis, kumpara sa kalakhang P1 trilyong revenues nito. At sabihin nang sa mga social services daw, tulad ng edukasyon at kalusugan napupunta ang pondong ito, nararamdaman ba ninyo ito?

Ang nakakalungkot pa, malaking halaga ng buwis na dapat makolekta ay nawawala dahil sa katiwalian at iba pang mga leakages. Noong 2006 nga, ayon sa isang pag-aaral ng DOF mismo, may P107 bilyon ang hindi nakolekta dahil sa mga leakage. Ang lalong nakakalungkot, ang kalakhan ng mga leakage ay naroon sa mga buwis na hindi nakokolekta sa mga malalaking tao. Hindi nakolekta ang P81.96 bilyong potensiyal na kita mula sa corporate income tax. Samantala, ang tinatawag na “tax gap rate” sa income tax ng mga negosyante at propesyonal ay nananatiling mataas, sa 40%, kumpara sa tax gap rate ng income tax ng mga manggagawa, na nasa 10% lamang.”

Pera ni Juan dela Cruz ito, hindi ito pera ng gobyerno. Hangga’t hindi natin nakikita na mahusay ang paggastos ng gobyerno sa pera ng taumbayan, mabuting ibalik muna ito sa kanila upang maibsan ang kanilang kahirapan. Ipinasa noon ang EVAT dahil nanganganib na humina ang ekonomiya dahil sa sinasabi nilang “fiscal crisis”. Ngayon naman, nanganganib na bumagsak ang ekonomiya kapag naipit nang naipit ang pagkonsumo ng ating mga kababayan. Ibang sakit ang ating nararanasan ngayon, hindi puwedeng parehong gamot pa rin ang ating inumin.” (All emphases mine)

People deserve break

Roxas used to think that removing the VAT on oil, even if temporarily as he proposed then, will translate to immediate benefits for the poor. In his 2008 column, he said it’s P4 per liter for diesel and P60 per 11-kilogram (kg) tank for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). Today, the immediate benefits are even bigger – for diesel, it’s almost P6 per liter and for LPG, as much as P110. “Government believes it should keep on collecting EVAT on oil and be the sole arbiter on how these revenues should be reallocated. I say, let’s give our people a break… Give the people instantaneous relief from high prices and meager incomes,” said then Senator Roxas in a separate Dec. 20, 2007 press statementNoon, the people deserve a break, pero hindi na ngayon?

VAT for debt servicing

Indeed, the points Roxas had raised against the continued collection of VAT amid soaring oil prices remain as valid as ever. His arguments, in fact, could very well answer the Aquino administration’s excuses to justify the VAT on oil today. For instance, while revenues have increased because of the oil VAT, social services continued to be marginalized in terms of government spending. Most of the revenues are being siphoned off by debt servicing. When Roxas was raising the issue of oil VAT in 2008, social services comprised less than 21% of total public expenditures while the total debt burden (interest payments and principal amortization) accounted for more than 34 percent. In 2011, preliminary data show that social services are still marginalized at less than 23% of public expenditures while the debt burden continued to hold the lion’s share with more than 31 percent. As Roxas said, “Pera ni Juan dela Cruz ito, hindi ito pera ng gobyerno”. Why should we allow the Aquino administration to be the sole arbiter on how these resources should be used?

Tax leakage

Roxas’s point on the tax leakage, meanwhile, remains a compelling argument against the VAT on oil. A 2010 study by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) estimated that individual tax leakage could reach at least P35.69 billion a year from 2011 to 2016. From 2001 to 2005, the individual tax leakage was pegged at P35.74 billion a year, according to a 2006 study by the National Tax Research Commission (NTRC). Despite the hype of Daang Matuwid, the fact remains that bureaucratic corruption, inefficiency, and wastage continue to deprive government of potential revenues. Alas, like the Arroyo administration, the Aquino government is over-relying on the regressive and burdensome VAT instead of finding other ways to raise revenues such as addressing the perennial tax leakage.

“Perwisyo”

As mentioned, Roxas is now dismissing the very same arguments he once espoused against the oil VAT. For him, protest actions against the VAT and deregulation – issues he used to consider as legitimate concerns that government must address – are “perwisyo” or nuisance. Of course, only the naïve will be surprised by such turnaround of a traditional politician. Roxas obviously just rode on the very popular anti-VAT sentiment when he was still eyeing the presidency. (He eventually gave way to Aquino and ran for the vice presidency but lost to Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay in the 2010 elections.) But now that he is part of the incumbent administration as a Cabinet official, the oil VAT has suddenly become indispensable.

Thus, from the consumer advocate Mr. Palengke, Roxas has now transformed into the VAT apologist Mr. Perwisyo.

Illusion of change

Finally, let me share another quotable quote:

“Napakahalaga ang VAT… Ito ang sagot sa mga problemang namana natin… Kung aalisin ang VAT, hihina ang kumpyansa ng negosyo, lalong tataas ang interes, lalong bababa ang piso, lalong mamahal ang bilihin… Kapag ibinasura ang VAT… ang mas makikinabang ay ang mga may kaya…”

That’s not President Aquino or one of Malacañang’s mouthpieces speaking, although the tune is very familiar to the one being chorused by administration officials. It was Mrs. Gloria Arroyo in her speech during her State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Jul. 28, 2008. Arroyo was responding to Roxas and many others who were demanding that the oil VAT be removed or reduced and that pump prices, which then were reaching historic highs, be controlled.

Tapos na ang pamumunong manhid sa daing ng taumbayan? Roxas’s 180-degree turn on the issue of oil VAT is yet another proof that the supposed change the Aquino administration has been peddling is nothing but an illusion. #

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Consumer issues, Oil deregulation

Facts and figures you should know about oil prices

(The video above, produced by Mayday Multimedia, is a short but very useful visual presentation of the issues behind the high and increasing oil prices in the country. Below are some of the latest available official data as well as independent estimates that hopefully you may also find useful.)

  • P48.10 per liter – the common price of diesel in Metro Manila as of Mar. 8, 2012; P57.75 for gasoline; and P835 to P919 for an 11-kilogram (kg) cylinder tank of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).
  • P3.20 per liter – the net increase in the pump price of diesel since the start of the year until the last round of oil price hikes on March 8-9; P5.85 for gasoline; and more than P190 per 11-kg cylinder tank of LPG.
  • 8 rounds of oil price hikes have already been implemented in the first 10 weeks of 2012.
  • P96 per day – the eroded amount from the income of jeepney drivers because of oil price hikes this year; P1,443 is their estimated daily consumption of diesel; P1,200 is the total amount loaded in a Pantawid Pasada card.
  • P62 million per day – the estimated increase in government revenues from the 12% value added tax (VAT) on diesel due to oil price hikes this year.
  • $116.16 per barrel – the published price of Dubai crude as of February 2012. Dubai crude is the benchmark for international crude oil prices that oil companies in the Philippines use in pricing their petroleum products.
  • $29 to $43 per barrel – the estimated amount needed to produce a barrel of crude oil. The estimate is based on the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) data showing that the finding cost (exploration and development) is about $6.99 to $18.31 a barrel while the lifting cost (operation and maintenance of wells) is about $5.75 to $8.26 a barrel. The EIA also said that royalties is about 14% of the selling price (or $16.26 a barrel based on Dubai crude’s selling price of $116.16 as of Feb. 2012).
  • $73 to $87 per barrel – the difference between the published price of Dubai crude and the estimated needed amount to produce a barrel of crude oil. This amount approximates the super profits squeezed through global monopoly pricing and speculation by oil monopoly capitalists and financial oligarchy (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and other Wall Street firms) from the US, Europe, and other advanced capitalist countries.
  • Two-thirds – the estimated portion of physically sold oil in the world market that is traded through the production and distribution chain directly controlled by the oil monopoly capitalists such as Royal Dutch Shell (UK/Netherlands), ExxonMobil (US), British Petroleum (UK), Chevron (US), and Total (France). Such direct control allows the global oil monopoly to arbitrarily pad the price of oil as it goes through its production and distribution network.
  • At least 80% – the estimated portion of oil sold in the Philippine market that goes through the chain of production and distribution directly controlled by the global oil monopoly. As such, prices are not actually affected by the daily fluctuations in spot markets and futures market, as claimed by the big oil companies and government.
  • $378.15 billion – the total revenues in 2010 of Shell, the world’s largest oil monopoly capitalist. That’s almost twice the size of the domestic economy of the Philippines (gross domestic product or GDP of $199.59 B in 2010). Chevron, which like Shell is an oil monopoly capitalist operating in the country, posted revenues of $196.34 B, or almost the same size as our domestic economy.
  • P8.60 per liter – the estimated overpricing in the price of diesel in the Philippines since the Oil Deregulation Law was implemented (accumulated from January 1999 to February 2012). The amount is on top of global overpricing due to monopoly pricing and speculation and simply reflects the discrepancy in international crude prices and local pump prices.
  • P147 million every day – the estimated extra profits that oil firms earn from overpricing the local pump price of diesel alone. Almost 78% of this amount will go to the four biggest oil companies in the country (Petron – P55 M daily extra profits from overpriced diesel; Shell, P38 M; Chevron, P15 M; and Total, P8 M).
  • Almost P6 per liter – the estimated immediate reduction in the pump price of diesel if the VAT on oil is removed; almost P7 per liter for gasoline; and as much as P110 per 11-kg tank for LPG
  • 20 – the number of bills and resolutions filed so far at the 15th Congress that aim to review, amend, or repeal the Oil Deregulation Law; probe overpricing; reduce, suspend, or scrap the VAT on oil; institute a regime of effective state regulation or at least a price setting mechanism; and impose a cap on oil profits.
  • Zero – the number of bills and resolutions endorsed by President Aquino or substantially taken up and prioritized by the House and the Senate to reduce or control the price of oil. #
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Consumer issues, Oil deregulation

More Filipinos think Aquino not addressing oil overpricing

"Heartless" oil firms hit for Valentine's Day price hikes

The latest survey of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) shows that while the Aquino administration continues to enjoy high public satisfaction ratings, more Filipinos are dissatisfied with government response on the issue of oil prices. According to the SWS’s Dec. 3-7, 2011 survey, published yesterday (Feb. 13) by the BusinessWorld, the Aquino administration maintained a high 56% net public satisfaction on its general performance.

But the administration also posted a negative 3% on its performance on the specific issue of “Ensuring that oil firms don’t take advantage of oil prices”. The negative 3% is 7 percentage points lower than the already low 4% that it recorded in SWS’s previous survey in September 2011. Furthermore, the issue of oil is also just one of two among the 19 specific performance indicators included in the SWS survey wherein the Aquino administration registered a negative net satisfaction rating. The other is “Resolving the Maguindanao massacre case with justice” wherein government recorded a negative 18 percent.

(Download the complete results of the SWS survey here)

The survey results came out amid fresh rounds of oil price hikes and widespread public perception that oil companies are overpricing their products and accumulating huge amounts of profits at the people’s expense. The SWS findings clearly indicate that the public is not buying the Aquino administration’s response to the problem of high oil prices and overpricing charges against the oil firms. This includes the Pantawid Pasada program and the establishment of a so-called independent panel to review “the books of oil companies to ensure transparency in fuel pricing”.

The adverse public opinion against the profit-greedy oil companies and lack of government action against their abuses should compel policy makers to initiate reforms in the downstream oil industry. Unfortunately, it is obvious that the people could not expect President Aquino to instigate this policy shift. Aquino has shown unwillingness to heed the demand to repeal the Oil Deregulation Law (ODL) or Republic Act (RA) 8479 and establish a regime of effective state regulation to “ensure that oil firms don’t take advantage of oil prices”. Aquino has also rejected calls for not just the scrapping of the 12% value-added tax (VAT) on petroleum products but even its suspension to at least mitigate the oil price hikes.

But fortunately, some lawmakers have taken notice of the perennial problem of high, escalating, and questionable oil prices and made proposals to look into the ODL and the oil VAT. At the House of Representatives (HoR), for instance, aside from the representatives of progressive partylist groups, legislators from mainstream political parties as well as from moderate partylist groups have also filed bills ranging from amendments of to outright repeal of RA 8479 and suspension or repeal of the VAT on oil.

A quick look at the webpage of the HoR’s committee on energy shows at least five (5) bills proposing to repeal RA 8479 and at least two (2) bills and one (1) resolution proposing review and amendments. On top of these, there are also at least five (5) resolutions calling for a probe on oil pricing as well as one (1) resolution seeking emergency powers for the President to address the oil crisis. Aside from proposals on what to do with RA 8479, at least three (3) congressmen have also filed bills removing or at least suspending the VAT on petroleum products. All in all, there are currently 17 bills and resolutions filed in the 15th Congress of the HoR that aim to reduce and/or control high and escalating oil prices. Meanwhile, at the Senate, at least three (3) bills have been filed that propose to amend RA 8479; institute a system of fair fuel pricing; and impose a cap on the profits of the oil companies.

The following are the bills and resolutions filed at the energy committees of the HoR and Senate on the issue of ODL and oil prices as well as proposals to remove or suspend the VAT on oil filed at the lower chamber’s committee on ways and means:

  • House Bill (HB) 4355 – An act regulating the downstream oil industry and repealing RA 8479 (filed by Rep. Teddy Casiño, Bayan Muna) (Download here)
  • HB 4317 – An act repealing RA 8479 (Rep. Rafael Mariano, Anakpawis)
  • HB 2569 – An act regulating the oil industry, establishing the oil price stabilization fund, and repealing RA 8479 (Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, Partido ng Masang Pilipino or PMP) (Download here)
  • HB 5295 – An act regulating the oil industry thereby repealing RA 8479 (Rep. Winnie Castelo, Liberal Party or LP)
  • HB 00347 – An act regulating the downstream oil industry (Rep. Danilo Suarez, Lakas-Kampi) (Download here)
  • HB 3267 – An act amending RA 8479 (Rep. JV Ejercito, PMP) (Download here)
  • HB 4893 – An act to ensure transparency in pricing, amending RA 8479 (Rep. Romeo Acop, Nationalist People’s Coalition or NPC)
  • House Resolution(HR) 00672 – A resolution directing the energy committee persistent oil shortage and recent spate of oil price hikes (Rep. Ben Evardone, LP)
  • HR 00880 – Resolution directing the energy committee to investigate the price monitoring and regulatory system instituted by the DOE in the light of overpricing allegations (Rep. Luz Ilagan, Gabriela Women’s Party or GWP)
  • HR 01027 – A resolution authorizing President Aquino to exercise emergency powers to address a possible oil crisis in the country (Rep. Teodorico Haresco Jr., Kasangga)
  • HR 01170 – Resolution directing the energy committee to investigate unusually high oil prices in Negros Occidental and other areas outside Metro Manila (Rep. Teddy Casiño, Bayan Muna)
  • HR 01310 – A resolution directing the energy committee to investigate high oil prices in Bacolod City and Negros Occidental (Rep. Roilo Golez, LP)
  • HR 01464 – A resolution directing the energy committee to investigate DOE’s decision of clearing oil firms of price-fixing allegations (Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, PMP)
  • HR 01627 – Resolution urging the HoR to review the ODL for possible amendments (Rep. Mitos Magsaysay, Lakas-Kampi)
  • HB 02806 – An act suspending the VAT on oil (Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, PMP) (Download here)
  • HB 04554 – An act exempting petroleum products from the VAT (Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan-David, Lakas-Kampi)
  • HB 2719 – An act exempting petroleum products from the VAT (Rep. Teddy Casiño, Bayan Muna) (Download here)
  • Senate Bill (SB) 1828 – Fuel pricing fairness act (Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, People’s Reform Party or PRP) (Download here)
  • SB 754 – An act amending RA 8479 (Sen. Jinggoy Estrada, PMP) (Download here)
  • SB 2529 – Imposing a 12% cap of paid-up capital on the maximum allowable profits of oil companies (Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Indpendent)

There is no shortage of proposals on what to do with the problem of high and soaring oil prices and the abuses that oil companies commit. The public, meanwhile, is deeply discontented with what the Aquino administration has been doing (or not doing) to address the issue. The conditions are favorable to aggressively push for the proposals pending in Congress against the ODL and the oil VAT and compel the Aquino administration to support these initiatives or be further exposed as anti-people and pro-oil cartel. #

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Consumer issues, Oil deregulation

14 years of oil deregulation is enough! (Last part)

After 14 years of deregulation, the dominant position of the Big Three remains intact, if not stronger, while consumers are forced to bear exorbitant and steadily soaring oil prices

Read part 1 here

When the ever controversial and IMF-pushed ODL was still being deliberated in Congress, its ardent proponents peddled it as the policy that will end the domination of the Big Three oil companies, namely Petron Corporation, Pilipinas Shell, and Chevron Philippines (formerly Caltex), over the local downstream industry. By encouraging “free competition”, deregulation is supposed to promote competitive petroleum prices that will benefit the consumers and the economy. Alas, after 14 years of deregulation, the dominant position of the Big Three remains intact, if not stronger, while consumers are forced to bear exorbitant and steadily soaring oil prices.

Exorbitant oil prices

Instead of competitive prices, the past 14 years saw steep, unabated, and questionable increases in petroleum prices. To illustrate, in February 1998, the month the current ODL was enacted, the pump price of diesel was just P8.33 per liter; unleaded gasoline, P12.62; and LPG, P140 per 11-kilogram tank. Today, diesel is about P46.79 per liter or almost 462% higher than its price when the law was enacted; unleaded gasoline, P56.83 (350% higher); and LPG, almost P800 (about 471%). To have an idea of how steep the increases were, we can compare them to price adjustments during the 14-year period prior to the enactment of the ODL (1984 to 1998). During this period, the pump price of diesel increased by just 36%; gasoline, around 61%; and LPG, about 28 percent.

The impact of these increases on the livelihood of the people is tremendous. A jeepney driver, for instance, used to spend P250 per daily trip for diesel; today, he needs to shell out more than P1,400 (based on the average daily trip consumption of 30 liters) under oil deregulation. A small fisher used to spend less than P117 per fishing trip for gasoline; today, that has gone up to almost P570 (based on the average consumption of 10 liters per fishing trip). A tricycle driver used to spend just P50 per daily trip for gasoline (based on the average consumption of 4 liters per daily trip); today, that amount would not be enough to get even one liter. Aside from the direct impact of oil price hikes on the people’s livelihood, there is also the domino effect that pushes up the overall cost of living.

Deregulation and its provision on automatic price adjustment aggravated the global monopoly pricing imposed by the biggest oil transnational corporations (TNCs) in the US and Europe. The tight control over the global industry of these oil companies which include TNCs that have local units in the Philippines like Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, and Total makes oil prices artificially high whether oil price hikes are implemented or not.

Speculation in the futures market especially in recent years exacerbates the unjust and exorbitant oil prices in the world and in the Philippines. Speculators, which include investment banks and other financial institutions that do not have any role in the oil industry other than to profit from speculating on prices in futures markets, are behind the steep adjustments in global prices. The rise of oil speculation further detached global oil prices from so-called market fundamentals, and thereby further oppressing the people around the world with exorbitant oil prices. Filipinos directly bear the brunt of speculation and monopoly pricing because of deregulation, which allows oil firms to automatically adjust their prices based on movements in global price benchmarks such as Dubai crude (for crude oil) and Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS, for refined oil). In 2008, for example, MOPS diesel jumped from $108 per barrel in January to $168 in July then fell to $62 in December. Dubai crude followed a similar trend from $87 per barrel (January) to $131 (July) and $41 (December). Meanwhile, data from the International Energy Agency (IEA) show that the supply and demand balance in 2008 was very stable. In the first quarter of 2008, global demand was 86.9 million barrels per day (mbd) versus available supply of 87.1 mbd. In the second quarter, supply fell to 86.8 mbd but so was demand which declined to 85.7 mbd. Thus, there was an even bigger surplus (supply minus demand) in the second quarter of 1.1 mbd versus 0.2 mbd in the first quarter.

Because the increases are automatic under the Oil Deregulation Law, the excessive and oppressive global prices are fully imposed on the people. Worse, the public has no way of knowing whether the price adjustments are reasonable or not even based on the supposed factors that affect local prices, namely global oil prices and the rate of foreign exchange. The people are forced to take hook, line, and sinker whatever explanation the oil firms and the Department of Energy (DOE) give for the price increases. This setup has paved the way for further abuses by the local oil companies at the expense of the people. One way is by implementing higher price hikes or lower rollbacks relative to global prices and the foreign exchange, or what is called as local overpricing. (Read here)

Global monopoly

Indeed, the biggest flaw of the deregulation policy is that it assumes that there exists a free competition among oil players in the global and local markets. As such, removing state regulation on pricing and other activities in the downstream oil sector is supposed to result to more reasonable prices that are determined by so-called market fundamentals. Automatic price adjustments supposedly quickly reflect the true price of oil based on global and local competition, with the end-consumers ultimately benefiting. But these assumptions are false.

Throughout its history, the global oil industry has always been under the domination of a few American and European transnational corporations that dictate the price of oil. These TNCs have remained in control despite the nationalization of oil supplies, the rise of national oil companies (NOCs), and the establishment of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). They have maintained such control and domination because even though the NOCs hold the largest oil reserves, the TNCs still have the stronger financial muscle and access to capital, the more advanced technological capacity and know-how, and the much wider and more sophisticated infrastructure and network worldwide. In fact, the NOCs are still compelled to partner with the TNCs for their crude oil to be refined and reach the market. To illustrate, Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest NOC and owns the biggest oil reserves at 259.4 billion barrels, have refining and marketing deals with ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil TNC. State-owned PetroChina also has partnerships with British Petroleum, Total, and Shell. The units and partners of these giant TNCs are also the dominant oil players in the Philippines.

Consequently, removing state regulation on the downstream oil industry actually further strengthened these local units of the oil TNCs. Deregulation gave them more freedom to arbitrarily impose their artificially high global monopoly price on the hapless domestic market. The Philippines is especially vulnerable because while we have one of the most oil intensive economies in the Asia, we are also one of the most import-dependent for petroleum.

Continuing monopoly control

From the onset, such global control and domination by American and European TNCs have been felt in the Philippine oil industry. As early as the 1800s, the US was already exporting petroleum products to the country. In the early 1900s, American oil giants Esso, Mobil, Texaco, and Chevron (Esso and Mobil are today’s ExxonMobil while Texaco is now part of Chevron) as well as the British/Dutch Shell had set up facilities in the Philippines. These foreign companies built the first oil station and depot in 1914 and the first oil refinery in 1951. There were attempts by some Filipino firms to build oil facilities in the late 1950s and 1960s. But these efforts fizzled out due to lack of access to technology and crude oil, which the TNCs control. Aside from the downstream, foreign companies also dominated the upstream oil industry. The first recorded domestic oil exploration was in 1896 by an American company while the first commercial oil field was developed by an Australian firm in 1977.

By the time the first Oil Deregulation Law (RA 8180) was enacted in 1996, three oil firms – all foreign-owned and part of the global network of the world’s largest oil TNCs – are dominating the downstream oil industry. They are Petron Corp., which then was 40%-owned by Saudi Aramco (Before it was nationalized in 1980, Saudi Aramco was owned by ExxonMobil and Chevron. But even after nationalization, it maintained strategic deals on refining and retailing with the oil TNCs.); Pilipinas Shell, local unit of Royal Dutch Shell; and Caltex Philippines, local unit of Chevron. One of the major objectives of deregulation was to dismantle this domination by the so-called Big Three by enticing more investors or new players to participate in the downstream oil industry.

The Oil Deregulation Law did pave the way for the entry of new players in the downstream oil industry. Latest data from the DOE show that there are now around 601 new oil players, of which 506 firms are involved in retail marketing; 66 firms in liquid fuel bulk marketing; 16 in bunkering; 9 in LPG bulk marketing; and 4 in terminalling. In 1998, there were only 22 new players that entered the downstream oil industry. This means that while the share of the Big Three fell from 95.7% in 1998 to 76.4% in 2010 (Petron, 37.8%, Shell, 27.4%; and Chevron, 11.9%) the concentration of their control over the market remained stable given the very large number of new players that account for the remaining 23.6% share. Note also that of the portion of the market controlled by the new players, more than half is accounted for by just three companies – Total (4.1%), PTT (3.5%), and Liquigaz (3.4%).

These leading new players are also some of the world’s largest oil companies – Total Philippines is the local unit of Total of France; Liquigaz is the local unit of SHV Netherlands, which is the largest LPG company in Europe; and PTT is Thailand’s national oil company. Among the new players that are Filipino-owned, the largest in terms of market share are Phoenix (2.1%) and Seaoil (1.9%). This means that 596 new players account for the remaining 7.9% of the downstream market.

Another indicator of the continuing domination of the Big Three is the number of pump stations. DOE data say that as of 2010, there are 4,114 pump stations in the country. Separate reports of the oil companies, meanwhile, show that Petron has more than 1,500 stations; Shell, more than 960; and Chevron, 850. Based on these data, the Big Three controls more than 80% of all pump stations in the Philippines.

Aside from the refilling stations, the big oil firms also control other strategic storage facilities of petroleum products and crude oil. Based on DOE figures, more than 81% of the country’s storage capacity including the depots, import/export terminals, and refineries are controlled by Petron, Shell, and Chevron. Furthermore, two companies – Petron and Shell – control 100% of the country’s refining capacity (about 64 million barrels in 2010).

Clearly, fourteen years of the Oil Deregulation Law is enough. There are pending proposals in Congress to repeal RA 8479 and replace it with a regime of effective state control over the downstream oil industry such as House Bill (HB) 4355 filed by Bayan Muna and other progressive partylist groups. Even lawmakers from various traditional political parties both in the House of Representatives (HoR) and the Senate have filed bills and resolutions calling for the repeal of RA 8479 or at least amend it. More on these proposals later. #

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Consumer issues, Oil deregulation

14 years of oil deregulation is enough! (Part 1)

Because oil is a very socially sensitive commodity, the Oil Deregulation Law has become one of the country's most contentious laws (Photo by Nino Jesus Orbeta)

On February 10 (Friday), Republic Act (RA) 8479, or more notoriously known as the Oil Deregulation Law, will mark its 14th year of implementation. The law, which was aggressively pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), was enacted on Feb. 10, 1998 by the 10th Congress. Because oil is a very socially sensitive commodity, the ODL has become one of the most contentious laws in the country. Its constitutionality had been the subject of several petitions at the Supreme Court (SC). In the past five Congresses, many legislators have filed bills amending or repealing the ODL. The Executive has convened, since 2005, three “independent” panels to review the law, including one recently set up by the Aquino administration.

From RA 8180 to RA 8479

In fact, RA 8479 was not the original deregulation law. The original, RA 8180, was enacted on Mar. 28, 1996. But massive people’s protests greeted the passage of RA 8180. Organizations under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) launched two people’s strikes against oil price increases. The Asian financial crunch in 1997 further inflamed the unrest. Following a massive strike in October 1997, the Supreme Court (SC) was forced to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the deregulation law. RA 8180 was finally declared as unconstitutional by the SC in a Nov. 5, 1997 decision.

According to the SC, the said law breached constitutional provisions outlined in Article XII Section 19. This provision states that “The State shall regulate or prohibit monopolies when public interest so requires. No combinations in restraint of trade or unfair competition shall be allowed.” In its decision, the SC recognized that the Philippine oil industry conceded that “operated and controlled by an oligopoly, a foreign oligopoly at that.”

The High Court further pointed out that “The much ballyhooed coming in of new players in the oil industry is quite remote considering that these prospective investors cannot fight the existing and well-established oil companies in the country today, namely Caltex, Shell, and Petron. Even if these new players will come in, they will still have no chance to compete with the said three (3) existing big oil companies considering that there is an imposition of oil tariff differential of 4% between importation of crude oil of the said oil refineries paying only 3% tariff rate for the said importation and 7% tariff rate to be paid by businessmen who have no oil refineries in the Philippines but will import finished petroleum/oil products which is (sic) being taxed with 7% tariff rates.”

However, then President Fidel V. Ramos marshaled his allies in Congress to immediately pass a replacement, correcting the unconstitutional provisions cited by the SC. The minimum inventory requirement was deleted while the import tariff rate was pegged at 3% for both crude oil and refined petroleum products. In two months since the SC junked RA 8180, Congress enacted RA 8479, which continues to be effective until today. Another petition was filed against RA 8479 arguing that price control should not be lifted because it contradicts the anti-monopoly provision of the Constitution. But in a Dec. 17, 1999 decision, the SC denied the said petition.

Role of the IMF

The passage of RA 8180 (and its replacement RA 8479) was tied to a loan of almost $1.04 billion that the Philippines contracted with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in 1995 under the multilateral institution’s Extended Fund Facility (EFF). The deal with the IMF actually involved six major areas covering 43 specific measures. Aside from the deregulation of the oil industry, other conditionalities included tax reform, import liberalization, financial sector reform, foreign investment liberalization, and privatization. According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Gabriel Singson, the IMF wanted these provisions in the Oil Deregulation Law in order for the country to exit from the IMF “on a secure footing.”

Not only did the IMF push for the passage of an oil deregulation law, it also actively influenced the actual provisions that such legislation will contain. In fact, to access some $300 million in the first tranche of the EFF, as well as another $300 million in loans from the Japan Export Import Bank (JEXIM), the IMF had first to approve the then newly enacted RA 8180. (See BusinessWorld, “New oil deregulation law gets nod,” February 20, 1998) The IMF had also pushed for automatic price adjustment and elimination of any form of subsidy as among the main provisions that an oil deregulation law must contain.

The timing of full deregulation also became a contentious issue during the deliberations in Congress. The Senate and the House of Representatives were then pushing for a transition period before full deregulation takes place but the Executive was rejecting the proposal because the IMF requirement was immediate liberalization of the oil industry. To accommodate the IMF conditionality, the Ramos administration lobbied for an acceleration clause. Congress, in the end, passed RA 8479 with such clause, stated in Chapter VI Section 19, which authorizes the President to accelerate the start of full deregulation (which the law states shall start five months following the effectivity of RA 8479) except for socially-sensitive oil products (i.e. LPG, regular gasoline, and kerosene). As expected, Ramos exercised this prerogative and accelerated the implementation of full deregulation (earlier by four months) to hasten the approval of fresh loans worth $1.6 billion under the IMF’s standby credit facility. (See BusinessWorld, “Oil deregulation rushed for ‘IMF credit,’” March 16, 1998)

Continue reading here 

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Consumer issues, Power industry, Privatization

Power lords

San Miguel Corporation cornered 41.3 percent of privatized generating plants and IPP contracts in terms of capacity (Photo from allvoices.com)

(Continued from Part 2)

The restructuring of the power industry under EPIRA facilitated the creation of new private monopolies that lord over not only the distribution but also the generation of electricity. The dominant position of these monopolies, controlled by billionaires in Forbes’ list of richest Filipinos and their foreign partners, is bound to further intensify under Aquino’s public-private partnership (PPP) program.

Privatized power plants and IPP contracts

Out of the 7,665.88 megawatts (MW) in capacity of privatized generating plants and IPP contracts, Danding Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation (SMC) cornered 41.3 percent while the Aboitiz group bagged 28.5 percent. Other major buyers include the Consunjis (7.8 percent) and the Lopezes (7.4 percent). American firm AES Corporation accounted for a significant 7.8 percent. South Korean companies SPC Power and K-Water have a combined 5.8 percent. (It includes the Angat hydropower plant that was put on-hold by the Supreme Court.) Five companies accounted for the remaining 1.4 percent.

The costs of these transactions total $6.69 billion. SMC accounted for 35.9 percent of the said amount; Aboitiz, 30.2 percent; AES Corp., 13.9 percent; K-Water, 6.6 percent; Lopez, 5.7 percent; Consunji, 5.4 percent; and others, 2.3 percent. (See Table 1)

In terms of overall generating capacity, the restructured Philippine power sector is now dominated by just three companies – San Miguel Power Corporation (20 percent), Lopez-owned First Gen Corporation (17 percent), and the Aboitiz group (15 percent).

Government through NAPOCOR and PSALM has 30 percent. (See Chart 4) SMC’s rise as a major player in the power industry is truly phenomenal considering that it has only started venturing in the industry in 2008.

These are the same groups that also control the biggest distribution utilities (DUs) in the country. SMC and the Lopez group, for example, control MERALCO with 27 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively. (Manny Pangilinan’s Metro Pacific controls 45 percent.) MERALCO is the largest DU in the Philippines with a franchise area covering 24.7 million (about 25% of the national population) in 31 cities and 80 municipalities. It serves Metro Manila, Bulacan, Rizal, and Cavite as well as parts of Laguna, Quezon, Batangas, and Pampanga.

The Aboitiz group, on the other hand, controls the second and third largest DUs – the Visayan Electric Company (VECO) and Davao Light and Power Company. VECO serves Metro Cebu covering four cities and four municipalities. Meanwhile, Davao Light serves Davao City and Panabo City as well as three municipalities in Davao del Norte. Aside from these DUs, the Aboitiz group also controls Cotabato Light and Power Company, San Fernando Electric Light and Power Company, and the DUs serving the Subic Freeport zone, Mactan export processing zone, and the West Cebu industrial park.

SM tycoon Henry Sy has taken advantage of the EPIRA as well. His One Taipan Holdings (30 percent), State Grid of China (40 percent), and Calaca High Power Corporation (30 percent) control the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP). NGCP holds a 25-year concession agreement (CA) with government to operate the country’s transmission system beginning in January 2009.

No transparency or competition

Cross-ownership in distribution and generation, which EPIRA allows, makes claims by advocates of neoliberal power restructuring about transparency and competition in pricing an outright lie. EPIRA’s unbundling of rates, for example, is practically meaningless even if a consumer can see in his or her monthly bill how much he is paying for generation and distribution. Market abuse is not prevented even if rates are unbundled due to cross-ownership. This has been clearly illustrated in the operation of the EPIRA-created Wholesale Electricity Spot Market (WESM).

The WESM, which has been operating in Luzon since 2006, is meant to among others “provide and maintain a fair and level playing field for suppliers and buyers of electricity”. But cross-ownership negates whatever benefits that the WESM is supposed to offer. The intention of the WESM is to make rates more competitive by offering prices other than those set in the bilateral contracts. EPIRA even capped at 50 percent the power requirements that DUs can source from their own generators and the rest they must get from other IPPs and the WESM.

However, the WESM itself is dominated by the same generators that are related with the DUs. IPPs connected with MERALCO, for instance, account for 42.6 percent (SMC with 24.8 percent and Lopez, including Quezon Power, 17.8 percent) of the 11,652-MW capacity registered at the WESM. The Aboitiz group, meanwhile, comprises 13.1 percent. The huge shares of these groups to the WESM-registered capacity make the spot market vulnerable to manipulation and speculation. Case in point was early last year when the price of electricity at the WESM reached an unbelievable P68 per kWh at one point during the height of the El Niño.

The high WESM prices have been blamed by MERALCO for the monthly increases in its generation charge last year. The latest adjustment in MERALCO’s generation charge worth 51 centavos per kWh, announced last Tuesday, is again being blamed at the high increases in the WESM, where rates jumped by P1.89 per kWh. MERALCO IPPs, on the other hand, increased their rates by a smaller 16.2 centavos per kWh.

Energy insecurity

Finally, the country’s energy security has remained precarious under EPIRA. The rotating brownouts experienced in different parts of the country last year is a tell-tale sign that the power crisis has not been resolved by privatization. In Mindanao, for example, the power shortage reached as high as 700 MW in March 2010 that led to rotating brownouts of as long as 8 hours daily. Government quickly blamed the El Nño because Mindanao gets more than half of its power supply from hydroelectric plants.

But apparently, the deeper issue is not drought but government neglect. During the Aquino administration, for instance, Mindanao’s power mix was 75 percent hydro while peak demand was 800 MW, according to a former NAPOCOR president. In 2010, DOE data show that hydro accounted for a relatively smaller 51.8 percent of installed capacity in Mindanao while peak demand was 1,288 MW. Thus, the El Niño could not be solely blamed for the shortage since no significant additional capacity has been put in the region. This should have been the job of government but because of EPIRA, it focused on selling the assets of NAPOCOR instead of installing additional capacity.

Even Luzon was not spared from rotating brownouts during last year’s El Niño. Aggravating the low levels in Luzon’s major dams were the uncoordinated shutdowns implemented by privately controlled power plants. They include SMC generation plants Sual and Limay as well as the Lopez plants that use natural gas from Malampaya. The power supply shortfall reached 641 MW, which could have been easily offset by Luzon’s excess capacity and thus avoid the rotating brownouts. But because EPIRA has dissolved government’s role in ensuring power supply, there is no mechanism in place to fill the gap resulting from plant shutdowns.

Ten years is enough

Its proponents argue that EPIRA must be given a chance to work because once fully implemented, the country will surely reap its promised benefits. They cite the impending implementation of the so-called open access and retail competition. Under this system, power consumers will have the opportunity to choose their suppliers. But then again, the industry has already been monopolized by a few players making the supposed option to choose an illusion.

For its part, the Aquino administration and its allies in Congress have worked for the amendment of EPIRA to extend the so-called lifeline subsidy. But it still does not address the exorbitant and rising electricity rates that Filipino consumers are forced to shoulder. Besides, the subsidy is being paid for by other consumers and does not come from the pocket of MERALCO or government.

Ten years of EPIRA is enough. Its defects could not be corrected by simple cosmetic amendments. It is fundamentally wrong to allow the narrow profit agenda of private companies and banks to take over a sector as strategic as the power industry.

EPIRA has resulted in the doubling of power rates and intensification of private monopolies. At the same time, it failed to address the financial problems of NAPOCOR and the country’s energy security. Only NAPOCOR’s creditors and private local and foreign companies have benefitted from power restructuring. For these reasons, there is a clear and urgent need for our policy makers to seriously rethink the law and work for its repeal. (END)

Read Part 1 – 10 years of EPIRA: what went wrong? and Part 2 – The curious case of NAPOCOR debts

Also read The role of foreign lenders, investment banks, and credit rating agencies in Philippine power sector reform

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