By Myrna Velasco
As the United States-China trade war escalates, and global economies wobble, oil import-dependent countries like the Philippines would have to agonize more over the volatile pricing of petroleum commodities as diesel prices will go up anew next week at domestic pumps by P0.75 per liter, while gasoline and kerosene prices will increase by P0.50 per liter.
Oil firms like Chevron Philippines and PetroGazz went on too early in announcing the price hikes – although the two firms’ actual adjustments are yet to be imposed on Tuesday, or on August 20 at 12:01 a.m. and 6 a.m., respectively.
The other oil companies are expected to follow their competitors’ lead, which has always been their practice.
There was a new round of rally in global oil prices last week as “fears of recession” were dampened, according to industry experts. That was the prognosis despite overall assumptions and data showing a slowdown in global economic growths.
In the Philippines, as the government loses in its legal bid to enforce more transparent pricing for oil products, industry players also appeared to be fiddling around more with their pricing announcements depending on their competitive whims.
But Energy Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi is not one to easily give up.
Despite having been legally bruised by the issuance of preliminary injunction against the government-underpinned fuel cost unbundling policy, he told reporters that he will resurrect the government’s oil importation plan so the consumers could be given an option in the liberalized oil sector.
Cusi admitted he was “not happy” with the outcome of the legal setbacks encountered by the Department of Education (DOE)-sanctioned Circular on fuel costs unbundling, but he said the department will continue to judiciously handle the legal aspect of that policy in coordination with the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG).
“We have to consult (with OSG) to ensure that we will not be cited in contempt. That (Court decision) is not a problem with us, that’s the right of the companies – they’re exercising it. We respect the Courts, but that doesn’t mean that we will stop from finding ways how we can keep the people informed,” he stressed.
The targeted importation of finished petroleum products, according to the energy chief, could either be executed by and through the state-run Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC), or its subsidiary PNOC-Exploration Corporation.
“We did all the process, we did the public consultation. Now despite all of those, there was an injunction, so we’ll just have to find legal ways on how to inform the public,” Cusi stressed.
With a state-owned company importing petroleum products, he noted that the government will have a way to gauge the various cost components or how fuel commodities are being priced at the pumps.
“We’ll find other ways to determine the cost. We would like PNOC to import — either it is PNOC mother or PNOC-EC. That’s a work in progress,” the energy chief emphasized.
Last year, the Department of Energy (DOE) backed the P2-billion diesel importation plan of PNOC-EC, but that move had been initially knocked out by controversies – especially when it was revealed that the quality of products to be sourced from offshore would still be within the Euro-II specification.
After the snagged importation venture of PNOC-EC last year, Cusi said he did not want to give a specific timeframe yet on when the revived offshore sourcing plan of fuel products will be concretized.
PNOC, he indicated, could be in a strategic position to do the importation given the partnership that it has been exploring with Dubai-based firm Lloyds Energy that includes investments in oil depots.
It has to be recalled that distribution networks and retailing system had been questioned on the previously planned diesel importation – and that’s one of the technical facets that the energy department had instructed PNOC-EC then to critically evaluate.