Philippine motorists struggle to cope with high fuel prices


Manila : Businessman Marlon Quejada rolled down the window on the driver’s side despite the sweltering heat as he manoeuvred his van out of their house in Manila’s suburban Caloocan City.

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Quejada said that since the price of gasoline soared to 56.35 pesos ($1.28)) per litre last week, he stopped using his car air conditioner.

Quejada added that he has also limited the use of his van to three days a week in travelling to his office some 36 km away from home.

“Not using the car aircon and taking a public ride have saved me a lot of money,” he said. “The cost of gasoline is taking a huge chunk off from whatever I earn everyday.”

Like Quejada, thousands of motorists in the Philippines have been feeling the pinch of high fuel prices, which have risen 24 percent since the start of the year, and have resorted to various measures to save on fuel.

Government data showed that since January 2008, oil prices in the Philippines increased by 12.50 pesos per litre. Economic analysts warned of continued weekly price increases as oil companies try to recoup their losses from previous spikes in world crude prices.

Raul Concepcion, chairman of consumer welfare advocacy group Consumer and Oil Price Watch, said there was no end in sight for the rise in oil prices and warned that prices of gasoline could go up to 65 pesos per litre.

“This is not only happening in the United States or in the Philippines but worldwide,” he said.

Augusto Santos, director general of the government National Economic Development Authority, said that if world oil prices hit $200 per barrel, the country’s economic growth would be substantially cut.

Santos said that for ordinary people, higher oil prices meant an increase in the prices of food, electricity and transport fares.

Land Transportation chief Alberto Suansing urged vehicle owners to practice car pooling in order to conserve on fuel consumption, especially in bringing children to schools or in going to offices.

“Car pooling is encouraged, especially now that fuel price is rising,” he said. “Parents can share on the fuel expense of the vehicle that brings their children to school.”

Maritoni Cruz, a 28-year-old call centre agent who bought a small car late last year, said she returned to riding an overhead mass transit to get to work in Makati.

“While it is true that my car is fuel efficient, the price of gasoline is simply too high for me to afford,” she said. “Now, I’m thinking of selling it.”

Pepito Nuguid, 32, a taxi driver, said he has stopped driving around his taxi in search of passengers. Instead, he would park in a mall or other public areas to wait for passengers.

“I usually queue up in malls,” he said. “And I don’t turn on the engine unless there is already a passenger sitting at the back.”

Totoy Buen, 36, a tricycle driver in Caloocan City’s Bagumbong district, also queues up at the tricycle terminal to conserve on gasoline.

Buencamino, who lives in a posh subdivision in suburban Quezon city, said he ensures that there should be at least three or more things he must do when he drives his car out of the house.

“After office on my way back home, I would pass by the grocery, pick up the kids in the school, do an errand for my mother who lives nearby, or whatever,” he said.

But Buencamino noted what he called “small blessings” as a result of high gasoline prices.

“Traffic has become lighter in going to the office,” he said.

“Three months ago, it would take me at least two hours to reach my office, but for the past week now, my travel was cut to about one hour and 15 minutes. There seems to be less cars on the road.”

Another small blessing for Buencamino and other Filipino motorists was a pre-paid card being sold by a small gas company, which pegs the price of gasoline at 53.50 per litre.

SeaOil Philippines said the pre-paid card can be used until Aug 22, when fuel prices are expected to have increased by at least 7.50 pesos more.