Bets reveal plans to tackle high oil prices as inflation worries voters

Ramon Royandoyan - Philstar.com
Candidates at the first nationally televised presidential debates at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila and aired on CNN Philippines on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022.
Marvin John Uy for Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — From suspending the collection of excises taxes on petroleum products to the very tedious process of revisiting the Oil Deregulation law, presidential candidates on Sunday offered solutions to rallying fuel costs as elevated prices worry voters.

Global oil prices have slowly increased since midway of last year as economies emerged from lockdowns while supply remained tight. But last week, global oil prices soared above $105 a barrel for the first time since 2014, as Russia, a major oil producer, starts its invasion of Ukraine.

Being a net oil importer, the Philippines is expected to take a heavy blow from rising oil prices abroad, with the government announcing last week it will dole out fuel subsidies worth P2.5 billion for the public transport sector and P500 million for the agriculture sector.

At a debate hosted by CNN Philippines over the weekend, presidential bets revealed their plans to soften the impact of motoring pump prices on consumers. Candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., a frequent debate skipper, did not attend the event held at the University of Santo Tomas.

Leni Robredo

Vice President Leni Robredo called for the suspension of excise taxes on fuel and distribution of subsidies to mitigate the impact of soaring world oil prices.

"First, oil supply will surely be affected. We have fuel subsidies currently, we need to move for the automatic suspension of excise taxes," Robredo said.

At the same time, Robredo stressed the need to find more energy sources for the Philippines, as supply from the Malampaya oil fields, which supplies all of the country's current natural gas, is seen for decommissioning between 2027 and 2029 after a projected decline in energy output starting 2024.

"We have to guard sources of power, too. Now, the price of electricity is increasingly high. The implementation of value-added taxes should be examined as well," she added.

Leody De Guzman

Labor leader Leody de Guzman wants to scrap the Ramos-era Oil Deregulation Law.

"We should inactivate the oil deregulation law. If it stays in its deregulated state, big corporations have the upper hand in earning double the profits," De Guzman said in the same debate.

Last year, the Department of Energy said it asked Congress to amend the law to allow the unbundling of costs of retail petroleum products. The amendments would also include giving DOE the power to suspend oil excise taxes when global prices are high. This plan is seen as a long-term fix to the problem, but it would have to go through a tedious and lengthy legislative process.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson

Another aspirant, Sen. Panfilo Lacson, pointed out that there were provisions in the national budget this year that would automatically activate funds for fuel subsidies if world oil prices hit an average of $80 a barrel for three straight months.

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