The problem of transport strikes is that when they happen, the problem is already at its breaking point, hence a strike. With mostly the transport sector left to lobby for their welfare—more often than not in synch with commuters’ interests—the public only had the transport strikes to actually deal with. But the problem here affects us all—drivers, commuters and the public—and goes way beyond the usually one-day strikes.

For the most times that transport strikes were held by the transport sector, dominant media mostly reported on the inconveniences of this legitimate form of protest action by the transport sector and would capitalize on the expression of the ire of commuters—the more heated, the better. Perwisyo. Abala. Pahirap sa buhay. The next reproof more ironic than the last.

The nationwide transport strike in September 2011 was a different story to tell, because even the public had felt the onslaught of the oil price hikes and overpricing assailed by transport groups that time. Oil prices were at P32/liter in July 2010, the start of the Benigno Aquino III administration, rose to P48/liter by July 2011, or P16 in a year’s time. Unabated oil price hikes justified by the government earned it the pejorative nickname “Big 3 spokesperson” given by drivers. Transport group PISTON accused oil companies of overpricing oil products by “an average at least of P7.50/liter.” The take home income of drivers dwindled to P200 or less. Jeepney fare rose from P7 to P8.50 (or P9 in practice, the P0.50 change were usually not given for lack of coins), with transport group Pasang Masda petitioning to raise it to P10 within the same year. Stacking all these up—what have we to lose for a one-day transport strike if it’s the only shot we have got to expose such a glaring situation, if not turn it around? There was an outrage against rising oil prices for months. A negative reaction to the strike then was rare, if not taken out of context.

But could it only be when money from the public’s pockets are literally being held up from us (read: highway robbery) be the time we feel in solidarity with the drivers? When the transport sector and activists have been explaining these issues for the longest time, why do we believe anything put out there or react as if we were born yesterday? What can we do to push this discussion further? Oops—We digress.

Here are the problems and their amalgamation that have so far caused the transport strikes.

1. Oil price hike

When the oil companies decide to increase their price, they do not need to explain themselves. Even if they do and we don’t feel content with their reasons, they would still get on with the increase. And they could do it as many times as they want, increase as high as they want, not needing government’s approval. One of the most essential commodities in the country and a vital and strategic sector in the economy is out of the public’s domain, out of government’s hands. Wait, did not we say this is a democracy? Well, the government through its leaders, supposedly the people’s voice, have given up control of oil price regulation since they passed the Oil Deregulation Law (RA 8479) in 1998. Oil prices rose to as much as P 51/liter of diesel and P61 per liter of gasoline in 2008, during the administration of Gloria Arroyo and as much as P48/liter of diesel and P51/liter of gasoline in Noynoy Aquino’s term.

Under the Oil Deregulation Law, oil firms can price their products based on market forces to encourage competition. The law prohibits government from intervening or influencing the pricing declared by the oil companies. Yet, the Department of Energy (DOE) has monitoring functions where it requests the companies to tell the DOE of change in prices before they are publicly announced, among other things.

RA 8479 has been challenged a few times in the Supreme Court, but at least two Supreme Court decisions deferred the issue of regulation to Congress that approved the Oil Deregulation Law.

Don’t even start on the oil price rollbacks. The increases were always higher than the rollbacks. It is only when there is big supply of oil in the world market does oil prices in the Philippines go down, but still never as much as price rollbacks in the world market. Clever local businessmen? That’s the work of a monopoly. Hawak tayo sa leeg.

IBON called on the government to repeal the Oil Deregulation Law, as did transport group PISTON and other progressive groups. IBON also said government should go beyond the repeal of the law, and not just go back to the regulated situation in 1998, but should also move to completely take over Petron (the largest oil refining and marketing company in the country, but was privatized), to give it a firm anchor in the domestic market, and undertake other interventions such as centralized procurement, set up a fund for stabilizing prices or explore alternative trading arrangements. Immediate solutions include the repeal of the 12% VAT on oil.

2. Oil overpricing

The exposé on the issue of oil overpricing reached a highpoint in 2011. Research group IBON has initial estimates in 2011 that indicate the “oil firms have been charging and additional 20-22% more for diesel, for instance, than is called for by the increases in the price of Dubai crude” (from where local oil companies import their supply of oil). Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN) cited data from US Energy Information Administration that a barrel of crude oil can be produced at $26.63 to $40.46 per barrel, while the posted price of Dubai crude was $99.22 in July 2012. The difference, BAYAN said, represents the impact of global speculation and monopoly pricing. BAYAN estimated the overpricing at P 10.26 as of July 2012.

Protests on this issue in 2011 prompted the Noynoy Aquino administration to say they would review the RA 8479, but “Noynoying” or “lazing around and doing nothing” had already become popular amid Aquino’s perceived inaction on skyrocketing oil prices. This also prompted the DOE to review the issue of oil overpricing. The DOE formed the Independent Oil Price Review Committee in 2012. The body declared that there is no truth in the allegations of overpricing and proposed that government continue to support the Oil Deregulation Law (that is said to be achieving its goal of fostering competition and setting fair oil prices). The body also proposed to government to consider deregulating public transport. The review is the third, after the 2005 and 2008 reviews that had all but the same findings. Business as usual.

An indication of the highly profitable oil business in the Philippines is the “ballooning profits” of the oil companies. IBON noted that “Shell, Chevron and Petron have reported a net income of at least P152 billion over the period of 2001 to 2010.”

3. 12% VAT on oil

The higher the oil price, the higher the government share in the profits. This is because of the 12% value added tax (VAT) on oil. IBON estimated the government to be taking an average P48 billion yearly from the VAT on oil or P239.6 billion from 2006 to 2011.

PISTON and other progressive groups have lobbied for a long time for the VAT to be removed as this would help bring down oil prices and then bring down prices of basic commodities. But this has fallen to deaf ears, or the government being consistently deaf.

Would not be so bad if the people would feel that these government profits—people’s money—are going the public’s way through services and better public utilities and infrastructure and not the government leaders’ pockets. But government has been consistent with having corruption scandals from Macoy to Noynoy (no administration untainted, sorry, no). And well, decrepit social services, public utilities and infrastructure. Ginigisa tayo sa sarili nating mantika.

4. Corporate monopoly of public transport

The latest February 27, 2017 transport strike—was it much too feared for its success—forced class and work cancellations all over the country, especially in the metro, announced a day or two before the scheduled transport strike. PISTON and Stop and Go Coalition led a transport strike against the jeepney phase out and corporate takeover of public transport.

PISTON said the jeepney phaseout is being sold as “modernization” but only meant “transfer of jeepney sector to bigger corporate entities. In the “modernization” scheme proposed by the government, franchises are required a minimum of 20 units, amounting to P 7 million capital, effectively displacing single franchise owners. Jeepneys that are 15 years and older would be taken out of the streets so the streets would be safer. Operators would be required to buy e-jeepneys and Euro-4 engines that comply with “guidelines of low-carbon, low-emission technology.” But San Mateo said these e-jeepneys could not withstand heavy rains and floods, would be reliant on constantly using up batteries and its disposal would add to toxic wastes. The relevant government agencies have yet to disprove these claims.

San Mateo also accused some transport leaders now being used as “talking heads for modernization and environment protection but are actually in collusion with the government in this program, saying they would become business partners in the corporate takeover of jeepneys.”

As with the oil prices (and the privatized operations of the mass rail system), PISTON feared that the public transport fares could go up on the demands of the businesses running them and would cease to be a service to the public.

Now, now, now, where were we in the discussion about the mass transport system?

What do you mean we are not yet talking about it?

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