On Pessimism and Hope Amid the Surge in Oil Prices

Pessimism among the Filipino people is worsening.  This is understandable as there is not let-up in increases in oil prices. Pump prices have already increased 14 times, as of this writing, since the start of the year.  But there is still hope; and hope lies on the people themselves.

Vol. VIII, No. 19, June 15-21, 2008

Pessimism among the Filipino people is worsening.  This is understandable as there is not let-up in increases in oil prices. Pump prices have already increased 14 times, as of this writing, since the start of the year.

A first-quarter survey conducted by the Social Weather Station (SWS) for Business World showed that while 29 percent are still optimistic about their quality of life, a slight movement from the 30 percent recorded in December 2007, 23 percent are already pessimistic, an increase from 16 percent last year.

Pessimism about the economy are a lot worse.  According to the latest SWS survey, 45 percent are pessimistic about the economy, a jump from the 37 percent recorded last year.  Those who are still optimistic about the economy dropped to 15 percent from 17 percent.

It is interesting to note that in the graph produced by SWS, pessimism about a change in the quality of life has remained consistently high and optimism consistently low under the Arroyo government compared to the previous administrations.  Pessimism momentarily dropped and optimism only slightly increased in 2007. This in spite of the hype that the country is about to reach “First World” status.

And to think, the survey covered only the first quarter of the year.  Increases in pump prices accelerated during the second quarter. The single biggest increase in pump prices at P1.50 was imposed twice in a row the past two weeks.  Recent announcements by the Arroyo government and oil companies reveal that there is no relief in sight as more increases are forthcoming.

What makes the situation more burdensome is that the surge in oil prices is accompanied by increases in rice, pork, and other food prices.  No amount of assurances by the Arroyo government that the crisis is ‘manageable’ could deny the fact that people are finding it more and more difficult to cope with the price increases.  The Arroyo government even keeps on repeating the false claim that it could not do anything about the price increases except to distribute crumbs.

Given these, it is but understandable for people to see a bleak picture ahead.  But there is still hope; and hope lies on the people themselves.

People all over the world are starting to rise up to confront the problem of oil price increases.  Truck drivers in Spain declared an indefinite strike and blocked the country’s border to and from France. They joined Spain’s fishermen who have been on strike against oil price increases.

Truckers in France followed suit and blocked their side of the border while 200 other French haulers drove around Bordeaux in a slow convoy. They were joined by taxi drivers. Truck and taxi drivers did the same in Paris. Farmers outside Lille, the northern industrial city of France near the border with Belgium, drove around in their tractors as a form of protest; 16 Total petrol stations were blocked also by farmers; 300 to 500 farmers rallied in the eastern city of Mertz riding behind cart-horses on a mixture of bicycles and rollerskates; and 500 farmers in Toulouse, in southwestern France also staged their own protest action. Fishermen in France have been on strike for three weeks and they blocked roads leading to oil depots in at Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille in the south and Marmande in the southwest.

Fishermen in Italy, Greece, and Portugal followed suit. Earlier, Italian fishermen have already been blockading fish ports as a form of protest. Dairy farmers in Germany also went on strike.  They were followed by farmers in Austira, Demark, Holland, and Belgium.

In Portugal, truck drivers also launched an open-ended strike threatening to block the flow of goods to the south.  In Britain, around 300 trucks are expected to converge in London on July 2 and the Road Haulage Association, with members all over England, would conduct a protest action at the same time.  About 100 truckers in Wales also held a protest action.  Truck and taxi drivers drove around Sofia, capital of Bulgaria, to protest government inaction on oil price increases. Unions of small trucking firms from seven European Union States, including France, the Netherlands, Hungary, and Slovenia would meet soon to coordinate protest actions.

In India, protests broke out in Kashmir, and India’s communist parties, which have a strong following in West Bengal and Kerala, have called for week-long protest actions. Protests have also broken out in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Locally, the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance) and its member organizations, which includes the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU or May 1st Movement), GABRIELA, the Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Health Alliance for Democracy, the Promotion of Church People’s Response, among others, have been holding weekly protest actions, mostly noise barrages and pickets, to demand that the Arroyo government takes more decisive and effective measures such as the removal of the VAT on petroleum products and the repeal of the Oil Deregulation Law to mitigate the effects of the surge in oil prices and to protect the Filipino people against the price manipulation of big oil companies and speculative attacks of financial investment houses and banks.

It is foolish to say that nothing can be done to control and put a stop to the surge in oil prices.  After all price manipulation and speculative attacks are being done by corporations and not supernatural beings. The Arroyo government refuses to heed the people’s demands because it is more interested in the increasing VAT collections it gets with the oil price increases and in currying the favor of oil companies and other foreign investors.  It is up to us to force the Arroyo government to act or to suffer the consequences of refusing to do so. Bulatlat

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