Senator calls for rapid distribution of fuel subsidies

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SEN. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara. Picture File

SEN. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Wednesday urged authorities to speed up the distribution of fuel subsidies to the transport, agriculture and fishing sectors following the global disruption of oil supplies due to the war in Ukraine.

“The trigger for the release of the fuel subsidies is when the average price of Dubai crude oil reaches or exceeds $80 per barrel for three months. The price is now above $100 per barrel, so the release of the subsidies should be imminent” , said the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The senator said the government has allocated 8 billion pesos for fuel subsidies to members of the transport, agriculture and fisheries sectors under the General Appropriation Act (GAA) of 2022.

He said 2.5 billion pesos was included in the GAA for financial aid or fuel vouchers for qualified public utility vehicles, taxis, tricycles and full-time transport and delivery service drivers.

Angara added that an additional 500 million pesos was also included for providing fuel discounts to farmers and fishermen, who are equally affected by the continued rise in oil prices.

In addition to the total of 3 billion pesos for the transport, agriculture and fisheries sectors, there is also an additional 5 billion pesos deposited under unscheduled appropriations also for fuel subsidies.

This means that the executive branch has the power to provide up to P5 billion in fuel subsidies once funding for the program becomes available.

Angara said the funds could come from government borrowing or excess revenue.

“We have seen in recent years that funds placed under unprogrammed appropriations have been systematically released, especially if the specified objectives are fully supported by the executive,” he said.

The Cabinet’s economic development group recommended, among other things, “increasing” the government’s fuel subsidy program from 2.5 billion pesos to 5 billion pesos.

He said that agencies involved in the distribution of fuel subsidies such as the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Agriculture should ensure that they have the list of beneficiaries ready and that they implement the program by gently and quickly.

“They have given out cash grants and similar grants in the past, so it shouldn’t be difficult to work out the guidelines for the current program,” Angara said.

The senator said the higher cost of transporting fresh produce to market will have an impact on consumers, as the higher cost of fuel will affect the prices of such produce as a pass-through expense.

Meanwhile, Senator Mary Grace Poe said the proposed increase in the fuel subsidy to public utility vehicle drivers and agricultural workers will bring great relief.

“We look to the Senate to also support increased aid in case legislative action is needed,” said Poe, chairman of the Senate Public Utilities Committee.

“We must take action to ease the burden of our people hit by high oil prices and their impact on the cost of food and commodities. Every day, Filipinos are doing their best to pull through despite the impact of the pandemic and high prices. The government must be accompanied by swift and decisive action to show that it can be counted on,” she said.

The DoE gets criticized

Meanwhile, the tandem of Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson and Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto 3e has chastised the Department of Energy (DoE) for allegedly failing to closely monitor the country’s oil inventories.

“Are there unscrupulous forces at work behind the sudden rise in fuel prices? asked Lacson and Sotto.

“Some of our Filipino compatriots can’t help but think that we’re being taken for a ride,” Sotto told a press conference in Pasig City.

“May mga nakatambak sa tangke ilang linggo na ‘yan doon, buwan pa nga (we have oil stocks that go back weeks or even months),” he added.

Lacson said the DoE should monitor stocks more closely.

“We need more stockpile in anticipation of the effects of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Even before the conflict, the DoE should have allowed oil companies to stockpile more so we can be ready,” Lacson said in Filipino and in English.

Lacson and Sotto said earlier that they were prepared to attend a special session of Congress to discuss the fuel price situation, should President Rodrigo Duterte require it.

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