Jeepney drivers are being affected by the continued surge in pump prices. -- PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

THE government plans to release P1 billion in cash grants for public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers this year in response to soaring pump prices.

The funds will be distributed under the Pantawid Pasada Program of the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) said in a statement on Monday.

DBCC said the funds will be charged against the support for infrastructure projects and social programs under the unprogrammed appropriations for 2021.

Global oil prices climbed on Monday amid tight supply and strong fuel demand in the United States and other economies rebounding from the effects of the pandemic, Reuters reported. Brent crude futures went up 56 cents or 0.7% to $86.09 a barrel.

Locally, pump prices went up for the ninth straight week as oil firms on Monday raised gasoline prices by P1.15 per liter (/L), and increased diesel prices by P0.45/L.

The Department of Transportation in a separate statement said the fuel subsidies will be released to drivers’ cash cards through the Land Bank of the Philippines. The department committed to distribute the funds during the last two months of the year.

Mar S. Valbuena, president of the Samahang Manibela Mananakay at Nagkaisang Terminal ng Transportasyon, said the funds are not enough.

Around 200,000 PUV drivers work in Metro Manila, he said, which means that a P5,000 fund each might only cover around 10 days given the P9 per liter increase seen over the last few weeks.

Kulang na kulang, hindi naman natin sinasabi na bigyan ng bigyan, baka may magawa silang ibang paraan katulad ng pag-suspend ng excise tax on fuel sa TRAIN Law at ’yung 12% VAT. (This is not enough. I’m not saying they should keep on being funded but perhaps the government can suspend excise tax on fuel),” he said in a phone interview.

He also asked about the speed of the rollout, noting the release of the servicing contracting program fund of P5.5 billion.

LTFRB, in a statement, said the payouts under the program reached P4.7 billion.

As pump prices continue to rise, the Department of Energy has asked Congress to amend the oil deregulation law to allow the government to intervene. Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi proposed that the department be given the authority to suspend the collection of excise tax on fuel products. He said such a move would help reduce pump prices by P8 to P10 per liter.

Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel M. Arroyo, chairman of the House Energy Committee, said that he would hold a committee hearing to consider the suspension of excise tax.

However, the Department of Finance said the suspension of excise tax would result in as much as P131.4 billion in foregone revenue for 2022, which it said could limit the country’s budget for economic recovery.

Meanwhile, Malacañang on Monday said it is still studying a proposal to suspend the excise taxes on fuel products.

“As we speak, these matters are being discussed,” Palace Spokesperson Herminio “Harry” L. Roque, Jr. told a televised news briefing in mixed English and Filipino. “The government is heeding and we are evaluating.” — Jenina P. Ibañez with reports from Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Arjay L. Balinbin