Oil deregulation, Power industry

Greed amid calamity

Bayan and its member groups and allies have launched efforts to generate relief goods for flood victims. See table below for a partial list of drop-off centers.

The country’s largest and most profitable firms are oblivious to the devastation being wrought by torrential rains on Metro Manila and various provinces in Luzon. Displaying barefaced greed, oil companies led by Petron Corp. hiked their pump prices, the fifth round in as many weeks since July. Then, the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) announced a new increase in its generation charge this month. Also, the Business Process Outsourcing Association of the Philippines (BPAP) asked for an exemption from the work suspension order issued by Malacañang.

All these even as hundreds of thousands of mostly poor people are still struggling to survive the worst downpour since tropical storm Ondoy hit the country in 2009. According to the latest update (as of Aug.7, 5 p.m.) from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the heavy rains spawned by the southwest monsoon have submerged 46 cities and municipalities in Metro Manila and Regions I, III and IV-A, affecting more than 541,000 people. Sixteen have been reported dead.

Such display of cold-blooded corporate greed amid a grave natural disaster is most unconscionable. We have yet to cope with this latest tragedy (and still reeling from the impact of typhoon Gener that preceded the heavy monsoon rains), and already we are being battered by increases in oil prices and electricity rates. Many families have yet to be rescued and still call center firms are requiring their employees to report for work.

But we must not forget that these profit-gluttonous companies have the temerity to do what they do because government allows them. They abuse and oppress the people with impunity because they know that government policies favor them, because they know that they are Aquino’s real bosses.

Petron, owned by presidential uncle Danding Cojuangco, and other oil firms increased their pump prices despite the calamity because the Oil Deregulation Law, which President Aquino has staunchly defended amid criticisms and allegations of overpricing, gives them the right to automatically hike their prices without a public hearing.

Meralco, also owned by Danding and known presidential allies Manny Pangilinan and the Lopez family, increased its generation charge despite the calamity because the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (Epira), whose full implementation is being pushed by Aquino despite strong opposition from Mindanao and other sectors, allows it to automatically increase its generation rates without a public hearing.

BPAP, meanwhile, knows that the BPO industry is one of the few supposedly growth areas prioritized by Aquino in his medium-term Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2011-2016 for government promotion. I’m not sure if the administration has granted BPAP’s request. But Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa said that call centers and other private firms that will require their employees to report for work should just “ensure personnel safety and give premium pay”. Para saan pa ang suspension order?

These intolerable acts of greed by the oil companies, Meralco and BPO firms bolster our argument for government to rethink and undo its current policies and programs. Especially during times of calamities, Aquino could not claim helplessness to stop oil price and power rate hikes because his predecessors, as dictated by foreign creditors, chose to deregulate the setting of pump prices and generation charge.

Government must revise its economic plan and stop relying on externally-driven growth sources like the BPO that is so detached from our own development needs, and in this particular case, from our domestic realities. BPO serves American and other foreign clients. Ano bang malay nila kung binabagyo na tayo at nalulunod na sa baha ang mga Pilipinong call center agents?

Unfortunately, Aquino has shown time and again that he is incapable and unwilling to implement the fundamental policy reforms we need.

For an in-depth discussion of these issues, click here (oil), here (power) and here (government’s development plan).

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The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and its member groups and allies have launched efforts to generate relief goods for flood victims. Please refer to the table below for a partial list of these initiatives and see which drop-off center for relief goods is nearest to you. Some of the groups have also provided bank accounts where you can deposit cash donations.

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Climate change, Events

BALSA: an urgent appeal to help the victims of typhoon Pedring

To help in the ongoing relief efforts by various sectors for victims of typhoon Pedring, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) has re-launched the Bayanihan Alay sa Sambayanan (BALSA), a multisectoral campaign to raise relief goods and conduct relief distribution operations in calamity-hit communities. The group is currently accepting donations for its BALSA relief campaign. (See poster above for details)

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council(NDRRMC), Pedring has affected more than 582,626 families or almost 2.73 million people in 3,252 barangays/300 municipalities/41 cities in 34 provinces of Regions I, II, III, IV-A, IV-B, the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), and the National Capital Region (NCR). Some 80,889 families or 362,552 people have been relocated to various evacuation centers. Meanwhile, official estimates as of Oct. 3 peg the cost of Pedring’s damage to properties and livelihood at more than P8.8 billion (or almost US$205 million at P43/US$), of which P7.55 billion (almost US$176 million) represent the cost of destroyed crops, livestock, and fisheries. Pedring also destroyed almost P1.25 billion (around US$29 million) worth of school buildings, hospitals, roads, bridges, and other important infrastructure. (Read the complete report of the NDRRMC here.)

In 2009, BAYAN also initiated BALSA relief drives to help those affected by typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng in Metro Manila, Laguna, Pangasinan, and Baguio. With the support of various organizations, relief formations, and institutions, BAYAN provided relief goods to around 4,300 families in 12 barangays in three cities and two provinces badly hit by the flooding and landslides.

(Read the complete report of the BALSA 2009 relief campaign here.)

For the victims of Pedring, BAYAN has already distributed last Oct. 1 the first batch of relief goods it has collected from various donors to residents of San Mateo, Rizal. (See photos here.)

Meanwhile, the Aquino administration blames climate change for the devastating storms that have hit the country in recent years, including Pedring, Ondoy, and Pepeng. But as BAYAN pointed out, while the string of calamities “served as a grim reminder of the reality of climate change and how vulnerable the country is especially with a government that is obviously ill-prepared to deal with natural disasters”, the calamities also showed “how policies and projects long opposed by the people like large-scale dams and foreign mining do cause death and destruction, and thus the urgent need to institute policy reforms.”

While BAYAN will continue to demand accountability from the national government and campaign for policy changes to avoid a repeat of the enormous devastation of lives, properties and livelihood due to typhoons, it also intends, through the BALSA, to bring attention to the remarkable spirit of bayanihan (“helping one another”) among Filipinos. As the group said, “For BAYAN and our member-organizations, partners and friends, the slogan ‘Serve the people’ has always been more than just a catchphrase, but a way of life.” #

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