By Mario Casayuran
The Senate ways and means committee has called on the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to form a task force and investigate unreasonable oil price increases in some provinces in the country, as inflation hits 6.7 percent because of high global oil prices.
Senator Juan Edgardo M. Angara, committee chairman, said the government should immediately take action on reports of unreasonable hikes in prices of petroleum products.
Kung palalampasin natin ito, posibleng dumami pa ang mang-aabuso. Dapat ay agad natin silang panagutin,” he said. (If we let this pass, abuses would grow out of proportions. They should be held accountable.)
Based on media accounts, pump prices of gasoline in Odiongan, Romblon have surged to as high as P71.17 per liter, and diesel at P57.46.
In Metro Manila, however, gasoline prices average P58.90 per liter, and diesel at P48.35 per liter.
Aside from Odiongan, higher prices were also registered in Laoag, Ilocos Norte, where gasoline is at P62.70 per liter, and diesel at P49.90 per liter.
Angara explained that Republic Act 8479 or the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998 was enacted to foster a competitive market by deregulating the downstream oil industry and allowing any person or entity to import or purchase crude oil and petroleum products.
While no government agency is vested with the authority to control the price of petroleum in the country, the law provides for safeguards and remedies to protect consumers from abusive practices of oil firms, he said.
Under RA 8479, “Any report from any person of an unreasonable rise in prices of petroleum products shall be immediately acted upon. For this purpose, the creation of DOE-DOJ Task Force is hereby mandated to determine within 30 days the merits of the report and initiate the necessary actions warranted under the circumstances.”
The law further states that the said task force could investigate and file the necessary complaint with the proper court or agency.
“The task force plays a big role in holding erring businesses accountable especially since oil firms belong to a deregulated industry,’’ Angara said.
To ensure fair competition, cartelization — or any concerted action by refiners, importers and dealers to fix oil prices—may be penalized with a fine ranging from P1 million to P2 million and three to seven years imprisonment under the law, he pointed out.