By Rio N. Araja and Macon Ramos-Araneta, October 3 2018; Manila Standard
Image Credit to ABS-CBN News
As city and provincial bus operators sought a fare increase to cope with the unabated rise in fuel prices, Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno said if the rate of inflation rose to 6.8 percent in September, this would not make much of a difference to the poor.
Petitioning the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board, operators in Metro Manila sought a P1 increase for the first five kilometers for an ordinary bus and a P1.20 hike for air-conditioned buses.
Operators of provincial buses plying the routes of Metro Manila appealed for a P0.14 fare adjustment for ordinary units and P0.16 to P0.22 for air-conditioned ones.
The Alliance for Concerned Transport Organizations had asked the LTFRB to increase the minimum jeepney fare from P9 to P12.Operators of utility vehicle express wanted a P2 increase per kilometer.
On July 6, the LTFRB granted a P1 increase in the minimum jeepney fare from P8 to P9 in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, and Calabarzon area.
The Department of Finance forecast that inflation could have reached 6.4 percent in September, while the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said it could have reached 6.8 percent.
On the ANC program Headstart, Diokno said both outcomes were possible, but he would rather wait for the official numbers to be released Friday.
But he played down an inflation rate of 6.8 percent, saying “it won’t really make a big difference.”
Also on Tuesday, Senator Sherwin Gatchalian said the country’s economic managers should run inflation scenarios should the price of Brent crude stay at $80 a barrel.
“We should also be ready to suspend the second round of the TRAIN law in 2018 should the Brent price remain at $80,” Gatchalian said, referring to excise taxes on fuel imposed under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law.
Most importantly, he said, the government should move to shield those who bear the brunt of rising oil prices and fully implement the Pantawid Pasada subsidy program for public utility drivers as soon as possible.
Senator Grace Poe, meanwhile, expressed alarm over the unabated rise in oil prices, which have gone up for eight consecutive weeks.
She urged the government to undertake measures to protect consumers from possible abuses by the oil companies.
“We are calling anew the Department of Transportation and Department of Social Welfare and Development to hasten the distribution of help and benefits based on the TRAIN Law,” she said.
Poe also called on the Department of Energy to properly monitor pump prices in gasoline stations nationwide and ensure that oil firms are not engaged in profiteering and abusive practices.
Oil prices are expected to further rise in the coming months due to tightening global oil supply. World oil traders are also predicting a $100/barrel scenario before the end of the year, which will have a direct impact on local pump prices.
The research group IBON said the administration’s anti-inflation measures were “reckless stop-gap measures” that would hurt domestic agriculture, displace farmers and fishers, and worsen food insecurity.
The group also said that the government should use its vast authority to take much more decisive steps to reduce inflation.
To deal with a shortage of supply, President Duterte issued Administrative Order No. 13 to liberalize the importation of agricultural products, a move IBON said was unwise.“
AO 13 is a Trojan Horse exploiting the current inflation crisis to advance the economic managers’ ideological agenda of liberalizing agriculture,” IBON executive director Sonny Africa said. The legality of AO 13 is also questionable, he said, as an administrative order is apparently being used to change laws that have been passed by Congress and are presumably superior to mere administrative orders.
Africa added that liberalization will keep the country chronically dependent on imported food and vulnerable to the availability of global supplies.
“It is so odd that our economic managers still insist that liberalization will develop the sector,” he said. He cited countries that continue to protect their agricultural sectors such as Vietnam and Thailand, from which the Philippines imports rice, and advanced industrial powers such as the United States, European Union, and Japan.
“It is fine and even necessary to import farm and fishery products if domestic supply really is tight but this should only be as a short-term emergency measure,” said Africa. The administration is, however, going overboard in permanently removing important protection for Filipino farmers and fishers through tariffication, lower tariffs and scrapping non-tariff barriers. Budget cuts in the Department of Agriculture also continue the long-standing problem of just 3-5 percent of the national budget being allotted for agriculture.