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Transport groups: Fuel subsidy possibly useless by May

A P1,050 fuel subsidy being offered by the government to drivers of public utility vehicles may become useless even before it can be disbursed in May, a militant transport group said over the weekend. The Pinagkaisang Samahan ng Tsuper at Opereytor Nationwide (PISTON) said the P1,050 will likely be negated by upcoming weekly fuel price hikes for the rest of April. “Sabi nga namin ang liit lang ng P1.16/liter subsidy. Pag nagkaroon ng increases kakainin lang ang fuel subsidy na ito. ... at 'di lang sa makakain bago mag-Mayo Uno, ang mas mabigat yung oil price hikes after Mayo Uno," PISTON secretary general George San Mateo said in an interview on dwIZ radio. (It is a very small subsidy, about P1.16 per liter. With more fuel price hikes in the coming weeks, even that P1.16 per liter will be rendered useless, and that is even before the start of the release of the fuel subsidy in May. We are not yet talking about fuel price hikes after May 1.) By May 1, the Department of Energy plans to start distributing “smart cards" to jeepney drivers under the government’s fuel assistance program. Some 214,000 cards will be distributed, each good for P1,050 worth of diesel fuel, to help PUV drivers cope with rising prices of fuel. However, San Mateo said the subsidy amounts only to P1.16 per liter, noting that jeep drivers use up about 30 liters of fuel a day in plying their routes. Multiplied by 31 days, the 30-liter consumption will be 930 liters, he said. According to San Mateo, if a P1/liter fuel increase were to take place this coming week, the P1.16/liter subsidy would have been eaten up by the price hike. On the other hand, he scored President Benigno Aquino III for continuing to ignore their calls to at least suspend the value-added tax on fuel products, saying removing the VAT for diesel can bring down prices by more than P5/liter. Militant think tank IBON Foundation earlier said prices of diesel can go down by as much as P5.65/liter if the VAT were suspended. San Mateo said the fuel subsidy was meant to shore up the government’s sagging image, and to silence calls for the suspension of VAT on fuel and regulating fuel prices. “Isa yan (ang papogi). At isa sa tingin namin mas importante ginawa ito ng gobyerno para maiwasan ang panawagang pagsuspindi sa VAT at pagkontrol sa presyo ng langis," he said. Transport strike San Mateo said PISTON is now seriously considering mounting a transport strike in Metro Manila to dramatize the plight of drivers. “Pinag-aaralan natin kung dadalhin natin sa level ng transport strike ang laban particularly sa Metro Manila (We are studying whether to mount a transport strike in Metro Manila)," he said. In the meantime, he said PISTON is planning to join forces with militant labor groups in holding a nationwide day of protest on Labor Day, May 1. “Ang pasahero namin ay manggagawa (Many of our passengers are laborers after all)," he said. Smart cards distribution Energy Undersecretary Zenaida Monsada had said the smart cards for the fuel subsidy will be distributed to those with legitimate franchises. Monsada said the Departments of Energy, Transportation and Communications, and Interior and Local Government, as well as Land Transportation Office and Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board will coordinate in the distribution. “Pag-distribute namin kasama ang DOTC, DILG, LTO at LTFRB," she said in an interview on dzRH radio. She said the agency will also coordinate with local government officials in distributing the smart cards to public utility vehicle drivers in the provinces. According to her, the smart cards are likely to be distributed in the provinces via the LTFRB and LTO district offices. But for tricycle drivers, she said the Energy department is still reviewing its options, saying producing the smart cards for them may be too expensive. Good for 1 month Monsada maintained the subsidy, to be backed by a P450-million fund, is good for one month, but hinted drivers can use the cards for a longer time depending on the availability of the intended fund. “One month siya pero kung di maubos ng may hawak ng card, meron yang extension," she said.