Critics slam Palace rejection to fire energy chief

THE activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Sunday slammed Malacanang Palace for rejecting calls to have Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Jose Rene Almendras fired from his post over the latter’s failure to stop the seemingly unstoppable increases in the prices of petroleum products.

“Who is Secretary Almendras? What is so special about this guy? Why can’t President Benigno Simeon Aquino III give the secretary’s walking papers? This Cabinet official should have been dismissed from public service for playing his role to the hilt as champion of the oil cartel,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap said in a  statement.

Hicap has called for the resignation of the energy chief a day after oil companies raised anew prices of petroleum products by an average of P 1 per liter, the second increase in just four days and the seventh since January this year. The total increase in the price gasoline went up by P 5.25 per liter, while diesel soared by up an average of P 5 per liter.

The DoE said it is preparing for a possible disruption in the country’s supply of oil due to the ongoing political unrest in Libya and other parts of the Middle East and the surging of the prices of oil products in the global market due to the rising tension in the Arab world.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte defended Almendras, saying the energy secretary was only explaining the situation that the cost of petroleum products is increasing in many parts of the world because of the uncertainty of the situation, particularly in Libya.

The Palace spokesperson said many countries are experiencing this global surge in the prices of petroleum products and Secretary Almendras, for his part, is doing the best that he can to explain what is really happening so that the public can understand.

The energy secretary has asked the public to accept the fact of rising oil prices because of the increasing cost in the world market and indicated the need to conserve petroleum products and for the public to adapt to the situation.

The government’s actions were aimed at ensuring continuous supply of fuel rather than taking measures that would help reduce its cost.
Almendras is the head of the inter-agency energy contingency committee formed by President Aquino to enhance the country’s contingency measures to ensure the country has enough fuel in light of the turmoil in the Middle East.

Under Administrative Order No. 6, President Aquino organized the IECC for the departments involved to carefully study and evaluate the government’s strategy in addressing situations arising from possible energy supply disruptions.

Palace said there is no imminent danger of any oil supply disruption, but the government sees it prudent to issue this order as a precautionary measure to ensure that the necessary preparations are in place in the event the situation deteriorates.

The committee will be composed of the secretaries of the departments of energy, finance, budget and management, justice, trade and industry, agriculture, national defense, the interior and local government, transportation and communication, foreign affairs, and the National Economic Development Authority and the National Security Council

“Secretary Almendras now wants to appear that the country will soon face shortage in the supply of petroleum products to justify the series of spikes in the prices of oil. This is exactly the same line hyped and carried out by the oil cartel and the puppet republic of President Noynoy Aquino to put premium to weekly oil price increases.

Secretary Almendras should resign because he brazenly and blatantly betrayed the collective aspiration and national interest of the people in the name of the profiteering oil cartel and the puppet Aquino republic,” said Hicap.

The Pamalakaya chair added:” It is like Secretary Almendras telling the Filipino people that they better accept oil price hikes instead of facing shortage of oil supply. This Jurassic manipulation and hostage taking of the Filipino people by the government and the oil cartel have been used many times to justify this national exploitation.”

Secretary Almendras view was echoed by Energy Undersecretary Jose M. Layug Jr. that the government would resort to rationing in a worst-case scenario. He said the government is now talking to oil companies in the event the country needs to ration fuel supplies and such plan is now being finalized under this oil contingency plan.

Usec. Layug further said once the government sees a sudden reduction in global oil production, at levels which would likely affect supply in the Philippines, the Department of Energy (DoE) will activate the oil rationing plan.

At present, the national fuel inventory remains healthy at 45 days worth of consumption, he said. The country consumes an average of 300,000 barrels a day.

Pamalakaya said the Aquino administration should immediately call for a stop to oil price increases, suspend and repeal the Oil Deregulation Law, stop oil cartel from overpricing and other practice of price manipulation and scrap the 12-percent expanded value added tax (E-VAT) imposed on oil products. The group said the ultimate solution to oil price increases is the nationalization of oil industry.

The group noted the unbridled spikes in the prices of oil products will require every fisherfolk some P 520 per fishing trip to be able to fish and such hike in the prices of petroleum products almost eats up 90 percent of the total production cost per fishing.

It said every Filipino fisherfolk uses at least 10 liters of regular gasoline or diesel per fishing trip and because of the situation he will be forced to stop fishing unless the government drastically reduces the prices of petroleum products by at least one third or one-half of the current price,” it said.

Pamalakaya said the if the average price per liter of petroleum products reaches the P 55 per liter this month, the fisherfolk will be compelled to reduced fishing hours from an average of 8-12  hours per fishing trip to four to eight hours or abandon fishing for the meantime due to high prices of oil products.

The group recalled that at the height of successive hikes in petroleum products in 2008, commercial fishing operators complained that 65 percent of their production cost went to fuel consumption.

Pamalakaya said commercial fishing vessels were forced to stop operations in 2008 due to oil price hikes. The group said in 2008, commercial fishing operators laid off 50,000 commercial fish workers in 14 tuna canneries in Western Mindanao due to hikes in petroleum products. Others resulted in downsized their operations due to increases in petroleum products and the 12 percent EVAT levied on oil products.

The weekly and unbearable increases in the prices of petroleum products have pushed small fishermen operating small motorized boats to reduce fishing hours from the normal 8 to 12 hours to 4 to 8 hours because of high prices of gasoline and other oil products. A significant number of fishermen cut fishing activities per week from the normal 6 days a week to three to four days a week due to perpetual increases in the prices of petroleum products.


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