Fuel vending machines

Published October 13, 2021, 12:11 AM

by Pinky Colmenares


Pinky Concha Colmenares

Did you know that there are more than 200 fuel vending machines around the country,  mostly along the coast of Oriental Mindoro, Siargao, and Panay?

These are machines that dispense fuel to counter the “bote-bote” sale of fuel in far-flung areas. (Bote-bote is the practice of selling fuel in liter-size bottles of soda in areas where there are no fuel stations.)

I was surprised to find the vending machines on Facebook where those are advertised like an investment product. It has a slot where the buyer inserts coins to purchase the fuel (gas or diesel), a hose to dispense the fuel, and a drum underneath the dispenser where the fuel is stored.

I learned more about the fuel vending machines during the SPMJ Forum last Oct. 6 where the resource speakers from the Department of Energy (DOE) — Assistant Director Rodela Romero and Division Chief Loralai R. Capistrano, Retail market Monitoring and Special Concerns Division, Oil Industry Management Bureau — and the Philippine Institute of Petroleum (PIP) — Executive Director Raffy Capinpin, and Ding Villamayor — discussed its safety issues.

(The Society of Philippine Motoring Journalists (SPMJ), which I head as president, conducts forums on issues related to motoring.)

The machine looks similar to the traditional fuel dispensers at regular fuel stations. They are known as the “technology solution retail outlets” or TSROs.

Under the Revised Retail Rules of the Department of Energy (DOE Department Circular 2017 – 11 – 0011), these small outlets are allowed to operate with the objective of providing fuels to areas currently being served by bote-bote.

The TSROs are regulated by the DOE which has issued strict guidelines on its operations for safety and consumer concerns. However, as of September 2021, the DOE has only given certificates of compliance to seven TSROs. Yet, there are more than 200 of those machines operating out there.

Some of the rules in the same circular may indicate the condition of the TSROs that are operating without DOE certification:

“A distance of one-kilometer radius from another retail outlet shall be observed; No other commercial establishments shall be installed/constructed within the retail outlet other than those necessary for its operations; the vehicle being serviced and the delivery of the liquid fuels by the tank truck shall at all times be inside the business premises; one meter set back distance shall be maintained in the following: cashier’s booth or dispensing pump to firewalls; and, during the supply operation of tank truck, there should be one meter working distance that should be maintained from the tank truck firewalls.”

The strict regulations on location and setup of the TSROs may not be feasible to the small business operations of fuel vending machines whose customers are mostly tricycle drivers and farm machine operators.

But there can be no excuse to disregard safety.

At the SPMJ Forum, Ms. Loralai R. Capistrano said there was a fire after an explosion involving fuel vending machines last June. Two fuel vending machines made by different makers exploded and caused a fire in a barangay in Calapan City. The fire damaged residential property in the vicinity. Fortunately, no one was injured.

Mr. Capinpin, executive director of PIP, expressed concern over the safety of TSROs, and urged that those should be more closely monitored by the government agency.

The problem, though, may be prevented by the local government units where the fuel vending machines are located.  Every business operation needs a town or city permit to operate.  Surely, the LGUs are aware of the sensitive nature of the products that will be sold by those applying a permit to operate a fuel vending machine business.

The SPMJ Forum is a project headed by Arnel Doria, and committee members Belle Alba and Jenny Bleza Pineda.