Imee Marcos

Senators push for urgent aid, fuel subsidies to various sectors

March 2, 2022 People's Tonight 363 views

AS oil prices surge higher, several senators expressed various proposals yesterday to resolve the issues that the country is facing amid the oil price hike.

Senator Imee Marcos who chairs the Senate committee on economics affairs expressed fear that the price of crude oil might reach the level of $100 per barrel as she urged the need for the immediate release of fuel subsidies for the agricultural and transport sectors.

“We must finalize ASAP the implementing rules and regulations for the release of P500 million in fuel subsidies for farmers and fisherfolk,” Marcos addressed the Department of Agriculture (DA).

The lady senator also urged the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) “not to wait for April” before fuel subsidies are made available to drivers of public utility vehicles, taxis, tricycles, and ride-hailing and delivery services.

At the same time, Marcos called on the Department of Energy (DOE) to reduce the country’s dependence on imports from the Middle East by finding other sources of oil as she proposed to avail lower prices of oil to various countries like China, Russia, and other big players not involved in the sanction system of Western nations.

“Let’s open negotiations with Venezuela and African countries to safeguard our national supply and boost our reserves,” Marcos recommended.

“In the long-term, we can cut our dependence on fossil fuels by exploiting wind and solar energy more. Our success in Ilocos Norte suggests we can do it on a national scale,” she added.

“We still lack a comprehensive and coherent energy plan beyond UC Malampaya. We can explore more local sources of energy with China, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, if we make our tax regimes more attractive for investment,” Marcos also said.

For his part, vice-presidential aspirant Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan called on the government for the immediate release of the P8 billion in fuel subsidy to farmers, fisherfolk, and drivers allocated in the 2022 national budget.

“Hirap na hirap na ang ating mga kababayan. Kailangan ng agarang aksyon,” he said, repeating his call for a crisis manager who will avert the impending fuel and food crises that are the result of the Ukraine-Russia war.

The fuel subsidy program, which shall provide financial assistance/fuel vouchers to workers in the transportation and agriculture sectors when world oil price reaches or exceeds $80 per barrel, has a total budget of P8 billion in the 2022 GAA: P2.5 billion under the Department of Transportation (DOTr), P500 million under the Department of Agriculture (DA), and P5 billion in the Unprogrammed Appropriations.

Pangilinan, who expanded the coverage of the fuel subsidy program in the General Appropriations Act (GAA) of 2022 to include taxi, tricycle, and ride-hailing and delivery services, said, “May pera sa budget. Kailangan na lang i-release. Gawin na ito ASAP.”

Without Pangilinan’s amendment, which was subsequently approved by the Senate and then both Houses of Congress, the fuel subsidy program will only cover public utility jeepneys and buses.

The Senate also approved Pangilinan’s amendment to increase the budget for the program from P5 billion to P10 billion, but this was not carried in the bicameral version of the 2022 national budget bill.

Due to the Ukraine-Russia war, it is projected that fuel prices may jump to as high as P77 per liter for gasoline and P73 for diesel, a DOE official said on Monday, using data from analysts.

In the international market, the Brent crude shot up to over US$105 per barrel last week, the highest on record since 2014, following Russia’s offensives against Ukraine.

Based on data and projections from the Mean of Platts Singapore, which is an average set of oil product price assessments, the price of oil per barrel may reach as much as US$120 this year, according to the DOE official.

As of February 24, the average price per liter of gasoline stood at P65.05, diesel at P57.45, and kerosene at P62.84 in Manila, the DOE said.

As of February 22, the year-to-date adjustments of petroleum products stood at a total net increase of P8.75 per liter for gasoline, P10.85 per liter for diesel, and P9.55 per liter for kerosene, the DOE said.

Reelectionist Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Tuesday also expressed her support for expanded government subsidies to the transport sector seen to cushion the impact of rising oil prices brought by the Ukraine conflict to ordinary Filipinos.

Hontiveros said that government must immediately implement an expanded transport subsidy program to mitigate the impact of fast-rising oil prices and prevent subsequent price hikes in food and basic goods.

“Malayo man ang Ukraine sa Pilipinas, magiging malapit sa bituka ang problema ng Pinoy kapag bumulusok pataas ang presyo ng gas, pagkain at iba pang basic goods. We need a comprehensive transport subsidy program that will soften the impact of oil price hikes on food and commuting costs for ordinary Filipinos,” Hontiveros said.

A transport subsidy program, Hontiveros said, must reach drivers and or operators of all public utility vehicles in the country, including buses, jeeps, and taxis, along with those under ride-hailing services. The same program must also help delivery riders and service providers, as well those transporting agricultural products or basic goods.

The reelectionist senator also stated that the P500 million pantawid dagat subsidy in the 2022 budget allocated to fisherfolk and farmers should be released immediately to help the agricultural sector bear the brunt of the impending crisis.

Under Special Provision No. 8 of the General Appropriations Act 2022, the government can release P2.5 billion in fuel subsidies for the transport sector when the average price of Dubai crude reaches $80 per barrel within three straight months. By Camille Balagtas-Sarmiento