Cash grants totaling P1 billion await jeepney, bus drivers | Inquirer News
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Cash grants totaling P1 billion await jeepney, bus drivers

GOING UP Lawmakers have criticized the lack of government programs for public utility drivers as fuel prices increase for the ninth consecutive week. —NIÑO JESUS ORBETA

MANILA, Philippines — The government will give cash grants totaling P1 billion to about 178,000 registered drivers of public utility vehicles (PUVs) such as jeepneys and buses to help mitigate the impact of high oil prices.

In a statement on Monday, the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) said the subsidies would be coursed through the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB), which also implemented the “pantawid pasada” program to help drivers when oil excise taxes were raised under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act in 2018.

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It said the cash grants would be sourced from unprogrammed appropriations under the P4.51-trillion 2021 national budget.

However, no specific date has been set for the release of the funds to the LTFRB.

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The DBCC is composed of the departments of budget and management and of finance, the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), and the Office of the President.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary and Neda chief Karl Kendrick Chua said financial support was being targeted to the most affected sectors and that the subsidy to PUVs would avert an increase in fares, thus benefiting consumers as well.

But senators on Monday criticized the lack of government programs for drivers reeling from the effects of high fuel prices.

During the budget briefing of the Department of Transportation (DOTr), Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate committee on public services, dismissed claims of officials that the agency was preparing to carry out programs for affected public transport drivers and operators.

She questioned how the DOTr has failed to present a program of assistance for them when fuel prices have been rising for nine weeks now.

Poe played down DOTr officials’ claim that it was set to expand its service contracting program to soften the impact of high fuel prices.

“First, you have a very low proposed budget for service contracting for 2022; second, much of your 2021 budget for service contracting has not been disbursed,” she said.

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Sen. Imee Marcos pressed the DOTr to come up with a “win-win solution” to the growing demand for a fare increase and the hardships that people were facing because of the pandemic.

9-week rally

The uninterrupted increase in pump prices reached its ninth week as oil firms raised prices starting on Tuesday by 45 centavos a liter for diesel, P1.15 for gasoline, and 55 centavos for kerosene.

Since Aug. 31, the series of price adjustments has so far totaled P9.10 a liter for diesel, P8.35 for gasoline, and P8.60 centavos for kerosene.

The international benchmark Brent crude oil was trending around $85 a barrel over the past week and was at $86.28 as of Monday night.

The Asian bellwether Dubai crude remained above $80 a barrel and was seen at $81.44 as of Oct. 21.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi reiterated calls for Congress to amend the 23-year-old downstream oil industry deregulation law “so that the government can again participate in the retail supply chain.”

“We hope for the DOE (Department of Energy) to be given authority to suspend the oil excise tax if prices are rising just like now,” Cusi said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan highlighted the urgency of suspending the excise taxes on fuel as farmers, fisherfolk and other marginalized sectors were bearing the brunt of the steep rise in petroleum prices.

He said a suspension would give breathing room for Filipinos who were already reeling from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“[The government] should always think of the most affected sectors, because almost always, they are the ones to suffer from these high prices—the farmers who depend on diesel for their farm equipment, the fisherfolk who also use fuel to sail out to sea, and the jeepney drivers as well as the riding public,” he said.

He called on the DOTr to also heed the call of various transport groups for a fare increase to cushion rising prices.

“The steep rise in fuel prices requires the government to act fast. The suspension of excise tax should have been automatic to mitigate its effects,” he said.

The think tank Ibon Foundation said in a statement that suspending the taxes on petroleum products would not only lower pump prices but also temper the increase in commodity prices.

As of September, inflation was at 4.8 percent, still higher than the government’s target range of 2 to 4 percent.

“This is worse for the poorest 30 percent of the population for whom inflation is higher than the national average,” Ibon said.

The research group said that a suspension would lower the price per liter of diesel by P6.72 and of gasoline by P6.33.

The latest increase in prices has brought pump rates in Metro Manila from P42.95 to P54.62 a liter for regular diesel and P50.65 to P71.59 for gasoline.

Diesel is now P45.20 to P69.50 a liter in northern Luzon, P42.05 to P61.72 in southern Luzon, P47.25 to P65.40 in the Visayas and P46.55 to P71.10 in Mindanao.

Unleaded gasoline is P52.60 to P80.95 a liter in northern Luzon, P52.02 to P74.24 in southern Luzon, P55.90 to P75.11 in the Visayas and P54.15 to P76 in Mindanao.

“Oil revenue losses can be offset by also suspending corporate income tax cuts under the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act, or [the] CREATE [Act],” Ibon said.

Civic groups on Monday also pressed the national government to suspend the excise tax on oil products as soon as possible to protect consumers from rising fuel prices.

In separate statements, the groups called on Malacañang to “stop passing the buck” to the DOE in solving the oil crisis.

Anakpawis national president Ariel Casilao said the effects of oil price increases were worse in the regions than in Metro Manila, while Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes reminded the Palace that President Duterte himself could take executive action to control the runaway fuel prices.

Subsidy for farmers, fishers

The Department of Agriculture (DA) is also looking to implement a fuel discount mechanism for fishers and increase the fertilizer subsidy for farmers to ease the impact of rising production cost.

Agriculture Undersecretary Ching Caballero said the agency was in talks with the DOE and five major fuel companies on a gasoline discount program for fishers, but nothing had been finalized.

The DA is also looking to expand its fertilizer subsidy program to help farmers by asking for additional funding or reallocating a portion of its budget.

Half of the capital of fishers is spent on fuel and 70 percent of the production cost of farmers is for fertilizers.

Studies conducted by Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas showed that a fisherman’s income from a fishing trip has been reduced to an average of P120 from P300 because of the price increases.

—WITH REPORTS FROM KRIXIA SUBINGSUBING AND KARL R. OCAMPO
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TAGS: cash grants for drivers, COVID-19 pandemic, fuel prices
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