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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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. #

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. #