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Review of oil deregulation law sought

Passengers line up to ride a jeepney along Commonwealth Avenue, Quezon City in this file photo dated Dec. 1, 2021. — PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Wednesday urged Congress to review the country’s oil deregulation law in order to give the government the power to intervene in the event of a spike in oil prices.

“We call on Congress to review the oil deregulation law, particularly provisions on unbundling the price, and the inclusion of the minimum inventory requirements in the law, as well as giving the government intervention powers to intervene when there is a spike and/or prolonged increase of prices of oil products,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Alexei B. Nograles said in a statement.

The statement was released after Mr. Duterte met with several Cabinet members and top security officials on Tuesday to discuss the political and economic impact of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Republic Act No. 8479, also known as the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998, removed government control on the pricing, exportation, and importation of petroleum products, allowing market forces to dictate oil prices.

Progressive groups have been urging the government to junk the law, saying it has allowed oil price increases to go unchecked.

Malacañang did not say if it will call for a special session to tackle the amendments to the oil deregulation law. Congress is currently on a break for the May 9 elections.

House Deputy Minority leader and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani T. Zarate challenged the Palace to certify as urgent a bill that would repeal or, at the minimum, review and amend the said law.

“If Malacañang has a serious call to review the oil deregulation law and prevent oil prices from increasing, it should call on Congress to hold a special session next week to discuss and approve the suspension of the excise tax on oil products and discuss House Bill (HB) No. 10386 or the unbundling of oil prices and HB No. 4711 to restore government control on the oil industry,” he said in a statement.

House Ways and Means Chair and Albay Rep. Jose Maria Clemente S. Salceda proposed four amendments to the oil deregulation law, including the creation of a strategic petroleum reserve “during periods of abnormally low prices.”

“This would help ensure adequate supply at affordable domestic prices during periods of high world market prices,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Salceda said the law should also require the unbundling of retail prices of fuel, and improve price transparency. He proposed requiring all fuel retailers to update any change in retail prices in a central government database for efficient monitoring.

Energy Undersecretary Gerardo D. Erguiza said the DoE wants the law to be amended to include a provision that excise tax on oil should be automatically suspended if crude oil hits $80 per barrel for three consecutive months.

Meanwhile, Mr. Duterte also approved the release of P3 billion for fuel subsidies and discounts to support public utility vehicle (PUV) drivers and agricultural workers hurting from the recent surge in pump prices.

“On the supply of oil, the President approved the recommendations of the Department of Energy (DoE) to implement the P2.5-billion Pantawid Pasada, and P500-million fuel discount program for farmers and fisherfolk. The DoE will continue to monitor the sufficiency in supply and quality and will make sure there will be no short selling,” Mr. Nograles said.

Economic managers earlier said the Pantawid Pasada program will give fuel vouchers to over 377,000 qualified PUV drivers. The government has so far been cool to proposals to cut or suspend the excise tax on oil products as a form of relief for consumers.

Each PUV driver will get an average of P6,500 under Pantawid Pasada, Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board – NCR Regional Director Zona Tamayo said during the Laging Handa briefing.

Also, Mr. Nograles said the Agriculture department will provide fuel discount vouchers to farmers and fisherfolk to help them cope with rising fuel and production costs. The Palace also approved measures to boost food production, including assistance to farmers through fertilizer subsidy.

Other measures approved by Mr. Duterte include accelerating renewable energy adoption, and supporting investments in modern storage facilities for oil and grains to encourage stockpiling.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nograles called on Russia and Ukraine to forge a peace accord.

“We appeal for an immediate end to the unnecessary loss of life and call on the states involved to forge an accord that can help prevent a conflagration that could engulf a world still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Duterte’s office released an executive order institutionalizing access to social protection programs for refugees, stateless persons and asylum seekers. The order also creates an interagency task force to handle services for them.

“These shall include the provision of access to socioeconomic services, social security benefits, gainful employment and humane working conditions, education, participation in judicial and administrative citizenship proceedings, legal assistance and access to courts, and freedom of religion.”

The President also ordered the Refugees and Stateless Persons Protection Unit of the Department of Justice to process claims to refugee or stateless status.

The order was in accordance with several United Nations (UN) conventions on the status of refugees, status of stateless people, and reduction of statelessness.

The Philippines recently voted in favor of a UN resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on Feb. 24 when Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered military operations in the European country.