A Provincial Board (PB) member on Tuesday said that he refuses to have the legislative body be rendered “helpless and inutile” in the efforts to address the perennial problem of expensive fuel in the province particularly in Tagbilaran City as they launch their own inquiry into the issue.
Board Member Restituo Auxtero, in a privilege speech, called for the PB to come up with a “concrete remedy” that would finally slash the widely perceived exorbitant pump prices in the city even as provincial lawmakers are unable to pass an ordinance that would directly lower fuel prices due to the Oil Deregulation Law.
The PB, following Auxtero’s speech, instead passed a resolution inviting representatives from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) primarily to access financial information on players in the fuel distribution industry including their transactions with their parent oil firms.
The resolution’s passage comes amid an ongoing probe of the Tagbilaran City Council on the same issue in which local fuel distributors have claimed that their petroleum products are expensive due to the high cost of fuel supply originally set by the oil companies.
According to Auxtero, pump prices in Tagbilaran City are significantly higher compared to those in Ubay, Talibon, Trinidad, Dauis, Panglao, Cebu City and Cagayan de Oro City based on a survey conducted by the first-term lawmaker.
Auxtero said that the high fuel prices in the city are “openly suspected to be the handiwork of a lurking price cartel.”
“These price disparities proved, in some degree, the allegation that a price cartel is enjoying its heyday in the city of Tagbilaran,” he added.
Fuel distributors in the province however have repeatedly denied the allegation of being influenced by a cartel in setting their prices or being part of one, claiming that prices of petroleum products are high due to the original costs set by the oil firms, particularly the so-called “Big Three”—Shell, Caltex and Petron.
During the Tagbilaran City Council’s inquiry on the issue last week, some local fuel retailers selling the top oil firms’ products said that they have a profit margin of only P1 to P3.
Auxtero noted that the issue on expensive petroleum products was already raised in 2019 by ex-officio Board Member Jescelo Adiong who had also called for the SP to invite the DOE to “open the books of the operators of the petroleum industry.”
However, the SP’s committee on trade industry, to which the issue was referred to, failed to tackle the matter.
The issue had been left undiscussed until it surfaced anew in a banner story of the Chronicle which was published two weeks ago and exposed the disparity between prices in the city and nearby towns.
“There was uncertainty whether the matter was really referred by the Secretariat to the committee concerned or not at all. What was evident however was the inaction of the Committee of Trade and Industry to whom this issue was supposed to be referred,” Auxtero added. (R. Tutas)