November 26, 2004
The Oil Industry Deregulation Law was passed by the Philippine Congress in 1998. Supporters of deregulation legislation claim that without meddlesome government regulation of prices, natural competition in the marketplace will keep prices low. That obviously hasn't happened with fuel prices here in the Philippines, as prices rose sky-high during the recent world inflation in the price of crude oil but then failed to come down as world oil prices subsequently declined.
The price of diesel rose from about 17.50 pesos per liter in January 2004 to about 24 pesos per liter this month, while unleaded gasoline rose from about 22 pesos per liter to 28.30 pesos per liter. Critics claim that the series of oil price increases, seemingly orchestrated, have proven that deregulation of the oil industry has strengthened the hand of the Philippines big three: Shell, Caltex and Petron - who have been making out quite well this year. Some groups have been clamoring for repeal of the law. They are requesting passage of House Bill 1065, which calls for the review of the Oil Industry Deregulation Law.
Fuel price increases affect all sectors, but in the absence of government-approved fare increases, jeepney drivers are especially hard-hit. Almost all drivers rent their jeeps by the day from jeepney owners, and need to maximize their income from passengers so they can take home a decent profit from the grueling days' work. But because jeepney fares are still regulated by the government even if fuel prices go up, the drivers are caught in the squeeze (Passengers, all of whom are counting centavos in the current economic crisis, will be hit later when the inevitable fare increases are approved.)
Transportation workers led by jeepney drivers held a nationwide strike yesterday (November 26) to protest the successive fuel price increases and demand repeal of the Oil Industry Deregulation Law. The strike was generally peaceful and had varying degrees of success across the country. In Manila, hundreds of thousands of passengers were stranded, forcing suspension of classes in most schools. National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) Chief Avelino Razon Jr. said 80 percent of public transport in Metro Manila was paralyzed at the height of the strike.
Here in Cebu, the strike was spearheaded by NADSU (Nagkahiusang Drayber sa Sugbo), a militant transport group. Group leader Anthony Pogado claimed the strike was a big success, with only a handful of the 13,000 jeepneys in Cebu plying their routes. Conversely, Cebu City Councilor Gerardo Carillo said that "Only about 20 to 30 percent of the drivers joined......while the drivers were more violent and more insistent than in their previous protests, they still failed to paralyze public transportation in the city." There were no reports of violence in the newspapers this morning.
I spent yesterday morning at home, finally wandering out in the early afternoon to observe how the strike was affecting Cebu. I observed fewer jeepneys operating than usual, but many were still plying their routes. The vast majority of Cebu City residents depend upon jeepneys for daily transportation.
I was searching for a little "action" and I finally found it downtown, at a rally called by NADSU and other militant groups including Anakpawis, Gabriela, Migrante, and Bayan Muna, all of whom were supporting the striking drivers. The rally was called for 5pm at the intersection of Colon Street and Osmena Boulevard, the heart of downtown Cebu.
The cops were there in force with helmets, clubs, shields and buses for hauling away potential detainees, but fortunately the rally was entirely peaceful.
The strike officially ended at 5pm, and by 5:30 Cebu's streets were again packed with smoke-belching jeepneys.
"Back to normal."
Special Bonus: Watch my new 9-second Cebu Jeepney Ride video. You can watch it with Windows Media Player or Apple Quick Time Viewer. The file is almost 2 MB, so may load slowly if you have a dial-up connection.