Inflation surges for 5th straight month since TRAIN law

Inflation as of May 2018There is no end in sight for high prices under President Duterte.

Inflation rate has reached a new 5-year high this May at 4.6 percent. It has been continuously accelerating every month since the TRAIN Law took effect in January 2018.

Even Duterte’s economic managers could not say whether inflation has already peaked. This means that the public should brace for more surges in prices of basic goods and services in the months ahead.

By the second half of the year, for instance, we are looking at big-time increases in water rates in Metro Manila (earlier reports indicated a basic charge hike of Php8+ to Php12+ per cubic meter) as well as in LRT-1 fares (Php5-7) thanks to privatization. Public transport fares will likely increase too amid deregulated oil price hikes.

The poorer families obviously are the hardest hit but even middle-income households are also not spared.

Transport service Grab has been hiking their rates with impunity, taking advantage of the lack of a reliable mass transport system. Meanwhile, some 170 private schools in NCR have jacked up tuition by 5-15% this school year, which will hit monthly household budgets as most pay on installment basis.

Duterte’s economic managers assure the public that inflation will eventually taper off later in the year. What this means is that prices will continue to increase although at a slower pace than they are doing today. This assumes that global oil prices and foreign exchange rates will move favorably, which is difficult to bank on amid worsening geopolitical uncertainties.

Further, because the downstream oil industry is deregulated, government does not have the needed policy tool to ensure that the public and the economy are protected from sudden and drastic and often speculative increases in global oil prices. Not to mention that the industry remains monopolized and the prices dictated.

Oil continues to be one of the biggest drivers of high inflation in the country. According to the joint DBM-NEDA-DOF statement, oil price increases contributed 0.70 percentage points to the 4.6% May inflation. But increasing petroleum prices also pushed up food prices, with fish and seafood and bread and cereals, for instance, significantly contributing as well to the May inflation with 0.65 and 0.56 percentage points, respectively per NEDA data.

What is certain is that the impact of the additional taxes on consumer prices under the TRAIN law is permanent unless they are removed. Including the latest (June 3) oil price adjustments, the TRAIN law accounts for 29.3% of the total increase in diesel prices this year; gasoline, 32.6%; and kerosene, 34.4 percent.

Blog 08 Table OPH TRAIN

Amid all these, people do not simply complain but make concrete policy proposals that could at least provide immediate relief, such as removing the additional taxes under the TRAIN law.

But typical of the Duterte administration, we get responses ranging from the arrogant (e.g., Budget Sec. Benjamin Diokno’s crybaby remark) to the ludicrous (e.g., Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez’s claim that the public’s supposed wasteful spending of their additional income under TRAIN is further driving prices up). #

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Oil prices under Duterte

As we face another round of oil price hikes this week, here’s a look at how oil prices have skyrocketed so far under the Duterte administration. Before Duterte took over, the common price of diesel in Metro Manila was Php27.95 per liter while gasoline (RON95) was pegged at Php41.15. Today, these have jumped to Php42.85 and Php58.07 per liter, respectively. In some gas stations in Metro Manila, diesel is being retailed by up to almost Php48 per liter, and gasoline by almost Php61. Prices in other regions are even higher.

Prior to this week’s oil price adjustments, the TRAIN law accounts for 28% of the total price hikes in diesel, and 31% for gasoline. When gas stations implemented the TRAIN in mid-January this year, the common price of gasoline and diesel in Metro Manila immediately jumped by more than Php4 to almost Php6 per liter. Thus, while it is true that the TRAIN law is not the sole reason behind the recent spike in oil prices and consequently of faster inflation rate, it is certainly a major contributor.

Deregulation, which allows automatic oil price adjustments based on supposed global oil price movement and forex fluctuations, accounts for the rest. But is it true that government is helpless as its economic managers like to claim? Remember that like the TRAIN law, deregulation is a government policy. As such, it can be changed if only the Duterte administration has the political will to protect the public interest, especially the poor but also even the middle class who are reeling as well from escalating prices. Sadly, this is not the case. #

(Read more on how TRAIN law and oil deregulation are oppressing the people here – https://goo.gl/AMcgz8)

Oil firms profiteering thru excessive price hikes

From the start of the year up to May 15, the price adjustments in diesel may have been “excessive” by about Php1.03 per liter and gasoline by Php1.34 centavos per liter. This resulted in about Php53.74 million additional collections every day from diesel and gasoline products for the oil companies. Of this amount, Php6.45 million daily go to the Duterte government’s oil VAT collections (on top of its additional revenues from the TRAIN law’s oil excise taxes). 

(Photo from INQUIRER.net)

The Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law is supposed to accelerate inclusive growth. But its immediate impact has been to accelerate the rate of movement of prices of basic goods and services in the country.

Since the implementation of TRAIN, the country’s inflation rate has continued to climb. Latest figures say that in April, inflation reached another five-year high at 4.5 percent. For the first quarter of the year, inflation averaged 3.8%, the fastest quarterly average since 2014.

Due to its domino effect on the costs of other basic commodities and services, the biggest driver of accelerated inflation rate it appears is oil. For one, TRAIN has significantly raised the pump prices of petroleum products. Inclusive of the 12% value added tax (VAT), the new petroleum excise taxes under TRAIN increased the pump price of gasoline by Php2.97 per liter; diesel, Php2.80; and kerosene, Php3.30 this year.

But TRAIN is just one, small part of the story behind high oil prices. For more than two decades now, oil price adjustments in the Philippines have been deregulated, thanks to the neoliberal policy impositions of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in the 1990s.

Deregulation means that oil companies could automatically adjust prices at the pump. This year alone, there have been already 15 rounds of oil price hikes, as of mid-May. The weekly price adjustments increased the pump price of gasoline by Php5.10 per liter; diesel, Php6.15; and kerosene, Php5.85.

Table 1 summarizes the impact of the TRAIN law and the weekly oil price adjustments under deregulation on petroleum pump prices so far this year.

Tab 1 OPH 2018

These price increases in petroleum products – and the consequent direct and domino impact on inflation – are in fact even more burdensome and abusive for the public than they already are. Taking advantage of deregulation, it appears that oil companies continue their practice of implementing oil price hikes that are bigger than what the world market supposedly warrants. This allows them to pocket extra profits on top of their regular net income, as the government also reaps windfall tax revenues at the expense of consumers.

Looking at local oil price movement from the start of the year up to May 15, the price adjustments in diesel may have been “excessive” by about Php1.03 per liter and gasoline by Php1.34 centavos per liter. This resulted in about Php53.74 million additional collections every day from diesel and gasoline products for the oil companies. Of this amount, Php6.45 million daily go to the Duterte government’s oil VAT collections (on top of its additional revenues from the TRAIN law’s oil excise taxes).

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the oil companies explain that domestic price adjustments merely reflect the movement in global oil prices plus the fluctuations in the foreign exchange (forex). For the Philippines, the international benchmark for refined petroleum products is the Mean of Platts Singapore (MOPS).

But based on the weekly MOPS adjustments and forex fluctuations as posted in the DOE website, the total price adjustments in diesel for the year should have only been around Php4.12 per liter (as of May 15, excluding the week of March 26-30 which the DOE did not post MOPS and forex data on) while the actual net price hike reached Php5.15 during the same period (excluding the weekly adjustment after the March 26-30 period to allow comparison). The same thing is true for gasoline which posted a net increase of Php4.20 per liter when the total adjustments should have only been about Php2.86 per liter.

The process of estimating the price adjustment is pretty straightforward. Oil companies claim that price adjustments for the present week is determined by MOPS price adjustments (expressed in US dollars per barrel) and the average forex in the past week. For instance, if last week the MOPS diesel increased by US$2 per barrel with the forex pegged at Php50 per dollar, how much should the price hike be in local diesel prices for the current week?

Step 1 is to convert the MOPS price adjustment into peso per barrel. So, US$2 x Php50 = Php100 per barrel.

Step 2 is to convert the MOPS price adjustment into pesos per liter. One barrel has 158.99 liters. So, Php100 / 158.99 = Php0.63 per liter.

Step 3 is to include the 12% VAT to get the final estimated adjustment. So, Php0.63 x 1.12 = Php0.70 per liter.

Thus, a US$2-per barrel increase in MOPS diesel at Php50 forex rate in the previous week translates to a 70-centavo price hike in the domestic price of diesel in the current week. Anything above 70 centavos is supposedly unjustified or excessive, based on this price adjustment model.

It is important to stress that determining whether price adjustments are justified or not based on the MOPS and forex movements does not in any way represent the true extent of how much prices are artificially bloated due to the monopoly control of big oil companies in the global and local markets. It just illustrates how deregulation can be easily abused by the oil firms operating in the country through implementing adjustments that are beyond the supposedly justified amounts by so-called international benchmarks such as the MOPS.

With the Philippines being one of the world’s most oil intensive economies, even the several centavos that oil companies overcharge through questionable price adjustments already translate to massive extra profits for the oil industry.

Using 2017 domestic consumption data from the DOE, oil firms are earning (excluding the VAT, which goes to the government) an estimated Php27.23 million daily in extra profits from diesel and Php20.06 million daily from gasoline. These are derived at by multiplying the Php1.03 per liter in estimated excess price adjustment in diesel by the diesel consumption of about 29.94 million liters daily; and the Php1.34 per liter in estimated excess price adjustment in gasoline by the gasoline consumption of around 17.03 million liters daily.

Based on 2017 market share (per DOE report), the Big Three which continues to dominate the local market after more than two decades of deregulation, cornered 55% of the estimated daily extra profits of the oil firms – Petron, Php13.05 million a day; Shell Php9.46 million; and Chevron Php3.31 million.

Table 2 summarizes the estimated extra earnings of the oil companies and the government from excessive price hikes in diesel and gasoline.

Tab 2 Extra income OPH

Again, these guesstimates merely scratch the surface by comparing local and international price changes. In reality, with or without price adjustments, big oil companies that run and control the global oil industry – from the vast oil fields in the Middle East all the way to the thousands of gas stations nationwide, and all the technology and infrastructure that keep this massive network together – retail petroleum at prices many times their actual production costs.

To illustrate, the Philippines imports 79% of its crude oil from just three countries – Saudi Arabia, 35%; UAE, 28%; and Kuwait, 16% (as of first half 2017, according to the DOE). The production costs of crude oil in these countries, based on 2015 data (as cited by CNN Money), are just US$9.90 per barrel for Saudi Arabia; US$12.30 for UAE; and US$8.50 for Kuwait.

Yet, in 2015, Philippine domestic prices were based on the posted price of around US$51.23 per barrel (2015 average posted price of Dubai crude, based on International Monetary Fund or IMF monitoring). This means that oil firms in the Philippines pegged pump prices at crude oil prices that are about four to six times of the actual production costs.

Under deregulation, the government has abandoned its responsibility to determine if domestic oil prices – whether in terms of price adjustments based on global prices or more importantly, in terms of reasonable prices based on production costs – are justified or not. The public’s burden is aggravated more by price speculation in the global oil market that further artificially drives up local prices which consumers fully bear because of deregulation. #

(First published by Bulatlat.com, this article is an updated version of an earlier blog post.)

Bangis ng buwis sa langis

Sabi dati, “matira matibay”. Pero sa ilalim ni Digong at ng kanyang mabangis na buwis sa langis, “matira mayaman”.

Alam ba ninyong mula nang i-deregulate ang industriya ng langis sa bansa at patawan ng mga dagdag na buwis, apat hanggang limang ulit na mas mabilis ang pagtaas ng presyo ng diesel at gasolina kumpara sa bilis ng pagtaas ng minimum wage ng mga manggagawa?

Pero para kay President Duterte at mga alipores n’yang neoliberal, hindi pa sapat ang kalbaryong ito ng mamamayan.

Dobleng-dagok pa ang hinaharap natin ngayong linggo sa taas-presyo ng mga produktong petrolyo.

Unang dagok – muling nagtaas ng presyo ang mga kumpanya ng langis dahil pa rin daw sa galaw ng presyo sa world market. Sa lumabas na report sa media, nasa 80 centavos per liter ang OPH (oil price hike) sa gasolina, 55 centavos sa diesel, at 55 centavos sa kerosene.

Deregulated ang industriya ng langis sa bansa. Awtomatiko ang pagbabago sa presyo linggo-linggo sa mga gasolinahan para raw i-reflect ang galaw ng presyo sa world market. Ito ang ikatlong sunod na linggo ng OPH sa pagsisimula ng “ma-Digong bagong” taon natin.

Pangalawang dagok – inaasahang ipatutupad na ngayong linggo ang excise tax sa langis sa ilalim ng TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion). Sa naunang pahayag ng DOE (Department of Energy), nasa Php2.97 per liter ang OPH sa gasolina, Php2.80 sa diesel, at Php3.30 sa kerosene – kasama ang 12% VAT (value-added tax).

Ibig sabihin, aabot ang big time OPH sa Php3.77 per liter sa gasolina; Php3.35 sa diesel; at Php3.85 sa kerosene sa pinagsamang impact ng TRAIN at deregulasyon.

Kung tutuusin, doble ang kubra ng gobyerno sa langis dahil sa TRAIN. Pasok sa kwenta ng VAT sa presyo ng langis ang excise tax (at iba pang buwis) sa iniimport na petrolyo. Dahil itataas ng TRAIN ang excise tax, tataas din ang koleksyon mula sa VAT sa langis. Syempre pa, lahat ng ito ay papasanin ng publiko.

Napakabigat nito lalo na para sa mahihirap nating kababayan na direktang tatamaan ang kabuhayan. Halimbawa, sa isang iglap, ang gastos sa langis ng isang tsuper ng jeep ay lolobo nang lampas Php100 sa maghapong pasada (batay sa konsumo na 30 liters ng diesel). Ang gastos ng mangingisda sa balikang byahe sa laot ay tataas nang halos Php38 (sa konsumo na 10 liters ng gasolina).

Pambili na sana ito ng isa hanggang tatlong kilo ng bigas (Php27 per kilo na regular NFA rice o Php37 na regular commercial rice) pero kukunin pa ng gobyerno sa mga pamilyang hindi na nga halos makahinga sa pagsisikip ng sinturon.

Pero ang bad news pa, karugtong ng OPH ang pagtaas ng iba pang bayarin. Sa leeg na yata ng mahihirap gustong ilagay ng pamahalaan ang pinahigpit na sinturon. Samantala, ang mga super yaman, may discount pa para sa kanilang luho sa ilalim ng TRAIN.

Bago pa ang TRAIN ni Digong, matagal na tayong pinahihirapan ng deregulasyon at ng buwis sa langis. Nagsimula ang deregulasyon noong 1996. Kung ikukumpara ang kanilang real prices (adjusted for inflation) ngayon at noong simula ng deregulasyon, lampas-doble na ang presyo ng gasolina at diesel.

Ang estimated increase ng real price ng diesel sa pagitan ng 1996 at 2018 ay nasa 131% habang sa gasolina naman ay 118 percent. Sa parehong panahon, ang real wage ng mga minimum na sahurang manggagawa sa Metro Manila ay lumaki lamang ng 27 percent.

Pumatong sa halos lingguhang OPH sa deregulasyon ang mga pabigat na buwis gaya ng naunang excise tax na ipinataw sa mga produktong petrolyo noong 1996; ang 12% VAT (value-added tax) noong 2005; at ngayong taon, itong dagdag na excise tax dahil sa TRAIN. (Tingnan ang chart sa taas)

Sabi dati, “matira matibay”. Pero sa ilalim ni Digong at ng kanyang mabangis na buwis sa langis, “matira mayaman”. #

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.

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. #

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. #