For the 17th time this year, prices of petroleum products increased. There was a time when upward adjustments were around one peso or so. But recently, with the confluence of geopolitical factors, post-Covid demand, and the limited supply from oil producers as they try to recuperate from lost sales in the last two years, we are now faced with more frequent and glaringly larger price hikes.
With the Department of Energy predicting gasoline pump prices eventually breaking the P100 mark, it is dire times indeed for motorists and industries that rely heavily on fuel.
For a country reliant on imported petroleum products, the impact of global price adjustments transcend more than just the people’s use of their personal vehicles. It also affects the cost of public transportation – buses, jeepneys, tricycles. Their operations are dictated by the cost of fuel at the pump. The more expensive a liter of fuel is, the higher their operating costs. And with fares dictated by the government, the margin of earnings a typical jeepney driver can bring home, minus the boundary fees and fuel top-ups, will surely shrink.
On the other hand, if public transportation costs are raised, the average commuter will find it a bigger hit on their already meager monthly budgets. So you can see that this is a problem that affects large swaths of the populace.
Fuel price hikes also affect transport costs of goods. That local pandesal you eat in the morning will either get more expensive, or smaller, because of the rising costs of raw materials. All of which depend on transportation to get them to producers.
With the cost of fuel already grabbing a sizable chunk of our take-home pay, is there a way to lessen the impact of this crisis on our daily lives? There is. A drastic one, but as they say, drastic times call for drastic measures. And that is to cut our addiction to fuel.
For more than 30 years, the steady rise of car sales has meant that Filipinos prefer to acquire a personal car over taking public transportation. It did not help that effective mass transportation solutions have never really been pushed by any post-Marcos administration. Instead, we got mostly highways and flyovers in the metropolis crowding the already limited space we have.
Infrastructure spending has been geared towards ease of car use, instead of ease of transportation. The induced dependency on cars means that the oil industry will continue to rake in profits at the expense of the public.
But what if a large number of us suddenly decided we would take a bicycle to work? Or would rather walk around the village to buy groceries instead of driving? What if we just stop driving around needlessly and only head out to buy essentials?
It is our dependence on fuel that is keeping demand up. And as any Google search on the law of supply and demand would tell you, it is this demand along with the crimped supply, that is making oil prices rise. Much to the joy of oil producing countries who only grow richer with each barrel sold.
Two years ago, when the world stopped and we all went into a lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the price of oil dropped significantly. At times, even to zero dollars per barrel. It was because of the lack of demand that the world was able to bring oil producers down to their knees. Of course, it also meant we could not go out and enjoy life’s amenities. We could not ride public transportation. We could not drive around and visit family. But it also showed that with proper planning and adherence to a strategy, the government, with the help of its people, can effect impactful changes to society.
How apt that the incoming president, Bongbong Marcos, a junior to his father in name, will take over the reins of government at the end of the month. Not because he is the chosen one to find a solution to every illness in society, but because his father once had to deal with a similar crisis four decades ago.
“Our lifestyle, as with other countries, will necessarily have to change. Energy conservation is now a value that must be cultivated in our children and among our people almost as intensely as patriotism and dedication to the mother country. For today, many of us must learn to live without some of the conveniences or luxuries that are now part of the lifestyles of those in the upper socioeconomic level.” This was an excerpt from the elder Marcos’ 14th State of the Nation Address in 1979.
Like the reelection of another Marcos, it is history repeating itself. But we ought to have learned by now that things cannot remain as they are. Back then, as it is now, our reliance on foreign oil will be our undoing. We cannot depend on market forces to dictate our lifestyle, no matter how accepted and prevalent it has been in our capitalist society.
Perhaps it is time that we as a people, with government at the lead, finally set the record straight and chart our own destiny. And if that means riding a bicycle to work each day as rehab from oil addiction, then so be it.