DOE-DOJ ‘police powers’ over oil industry abuses proposed to be shifted to PCC

Published December 10, 2020, 1:49 PM

by Myrna M. Velasco

The ‘investigative powers’ being exercised by the Department of Energy-Department of Justice (DOE-DOJ) task force over abuses in the downstream oil sector was proposed to be transferred to the Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) to ensure non-discriminatory handling of cases.

The recommendation has been put forward by advocacy group Laban Konsyumer Inc. (LKI), as among the amendments to the existing Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act or Republic Act 8479.

LKI President and convenor Atty. Victorio Mario Dimagiba

“The proposal promotes an inquiry independent from the regulator of the oil industry. The proposal will ensure the impartiality of the DOJ,” LKI President and former Trade Undersecretary Victorio Mario Dimagiba noted.

He emphasized that if there will be a criminal case lodged against an oil industry player, it shall be the PCC that will endorse the case to the justice department for preliminary investigation.

Beyond the shift of investigative powers to the PCC, Dimagiba likewise propounded that the “fuel cost unbundling policy” be integrated into the amended Oil Deregulation Law, and such must take reference on a Circular that was issued by the DOE in 2019, a policy that had been halted at implementation due to Court restraining orders.

“The Committee may consider in the proposed amendments of the Oil Deregulation Law the adoption of the DOE Circular on unbundling of prices of petroleum products,” LKI said.

The recommendation to amend the Oil Deregulation Law has been lodged with the House Committee on Energy, and this is targeted to be taken up in the coming months.

Dimagiba said the proposed fuel cost unbundling guidelines set forth by the DOE “was the product of many hearings in the Committee to promote transparency in the oil market.”

The consumer group also recommended to Congress that it shall consider broadening the coverage of fuel commodities that shall be on ‘price freeze’ following a state of calamity declaration – to not only include kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) but also gasoline and diesel products.

Another policy modification advanced by LKI is to enforce ‘longer cooling off period’ before an oil company could hire a retired or resigned public official into its employment milieu.

“We propose to increase the cooling off period of public officials in the oil industry who retires or resigns from seeking employment in the oil industry for a longer period of three (3 years) from date of separation from the government. The current law prescribes one year,” the group said.