Transport group Pagkakaisa ng mga Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) maintained that the P1 jeepney fare hike last October 8 would be unnecessary if the government instead addressed rising oil prices by repealing the Oil Deregulation Law and removing the excise tax on oil.

The Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) agreed to raise the fare from P12 to P13 for traditional jeepneys and from P14 to P15 for modern jeepneys on October 3.

“Halos P550 kada araw ang nawawalang direk na kita at halos P3,000 per month ang nawalang kita ng ating mga driver. Syempre, sa bahagi namin ay bagaman karapatan ng mga driver at operator na humingi ng dagdag kita, ang mas panawagan namin ay dapat sa pagbasura sa Oil Deregulation Law,” Modeflor Floranda, president of PISTON, told the Collegian.

Oil prices have since became more vulnerable to fluctuations due to the 1998 Oil Deregulation Law, which gave petrol companies the sole power to source, distribute, and price oil. The law promised to create a “fairer price regime” for oil and to prop up small oil companies to attract investments to service far-flung, underdeveloped areas, according to a study by state-run think-tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies.

But such promises were proven ineffective when external events created large fluctuations in oil prices. When the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, a group of major oil-producing countries, cut their production in 2021, and when the Russia Ukraine War exploded last year, the Oil Deregulation Law allowed oil companies to increase prices more than what the market  called for, according to think-tank IBON Foundation.

The Department of Energy endorsed a price unbundling scheme in 2019, which would have required crude oil prices to reflect their actual landed cost. However, courts suspended its implementation after pushback from oil companies.

This is on top of the additional excise tax imposed on oil products. Despite urging the government to suspend the excise tax while he was a candidate, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. later reversed his stance, arguing that the government would lose much-needed income for other projects such as his Build Better More program.

“Ang [Oil Deregulation Law] ang nagiging sanhi ng pagpatuloy na pagtaas ng presyo ng petrolyo  dito sa ating bansa. Kapag matanggal ang buwis sa petrolyo, baka mas malaki ang mababalik na kita sa ating mga driver at operator, at direktang makakatulong ito sa pagbaba ng pangunahing mga serbisyo at mga bilihin,” said Floranda.

Economic woes seem to have been put on the back burner, however, after allegations of route permits being sold for P5 million were surfaced by former LTFRB aide Jeff Tumbado on October 9.

Tumbado previously approached transport group Malayang Alyansa ng Bus Employees at Laborers (MANIBELA) regarding the corruption claims, alleging that the scheme traces back to the Department of Transportation and even to the Office of the President. MANIBELA then organized a press conference where Tumbado alleged corruption, and launched a strike on Monday in protest.

However, the LTFRB senior staff then recanted his accusations in an affidavit on October 11 after Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista threatened to lodge formal complaints against “whoever was maligning” him.

Bautista filed cyberlibel complaints on Tuesday against journalist Ira Panganiban and MANIBELA Chairperson Mar Valbuena. Tumbado was notably not charged in the raps.

Aside from corruption, MANIBELA also called for the junking of the December 31 deadline for the consolidation of traditional jeepneys into cooperatives. However, while PISTON also calls for the junking of the consolidation deadline, they, along with other transport groups, agreed with the government not to join the strike.

“Sa bahagi namin sa PISTON, hindi kami bahagi dahil sa kulang na konkretong paglilinaw at walang masinsinang pag-uusap tungkol sa kanilang mga plano. Bagaman ito ay lehitimong mga panawagan, sa tingin namin ay kapos at kulang sa preperasyon,” Floranda said about the strike.

The Metro Manila Development Authority claimed that Manibela’s strike “failed to paralyze” public transportation, and reiterated that the consolidation deadline, along with the jeepney modernization program, is mandated by law.

But the recent strike is only a small part of the long, unanswered calls to junk the consolidation deadline, and repeal the Oil Deregulation Law and excise taxes.

“Ito ang dalawang mayor na panawagan na hudyat na kailangang tugunan ng pamahalaan upang makatulong hindi lamang sa [mga operator] kundi upang matulungan ang ating mga mamamayan,” Floranda said. 

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