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Philippine protest against fuel prices

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Transport strike causes traffic jam
By Tina Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:25:00 06/13/2008

MANILA, Philippines – Hundreds of trucks and mini-buses blocked roads leading to Malacañang Thursday to protest soaring prices of petroleum products.

About 50 tricycle drivers joined the long convoy of trucks and mini-buses.

The protest action caused a monstrous traffic jam for about an hour on the streets leading to Malacañang and the University Belt and the areas around them.

It was staged by members of militant transport groups Alliance for Concerned Transport (ACT-Now!) and Pagkakaisa ng Manggagawa sa Transportasyon (PMT).

Supt. Jimmy Tiu, station commander of Manila Police District Station 8, said some 80 tractor and trailer trucks and 50 tricycles blocked Bustillos Street in Sampaloc.

A phalanx of anti-riot police officers prevented the convoy from reaching the country's seat of power.

The protesters started from North Harbor Pier and planned to bring the caravan to the historic Don Chino Roces Bridge (formerly Mendiola) near Malacañang.

PMT convenor Dante Lagman said the protesters wanted to urge the government to act on the continuing price increases of petroleum products.

"It's the government's job to protect its people," Lagman said. "If the government wants to address sincerely the global crisis on oil, it must implement measures that would immediately trickle down to the masses, like lifting the 12 percent Reformed Value Added Tax (RVAT) on all oil products."

In addition to the lifting of the RVAT, the PMT also suggested a moratorium on oil price increases and the repeal of Republic Act 8479 or the Oil Deregulation Law.

Police said the protesters planned to have a brief program on Mendiola Bridge but were prevented by the MPD, which set up a barricade.

After negotiations, anti-riot policemen allowed the militant groups to use the bridge to reach Legarda Street.

Leody de Guzman, national president of the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP), a member of ACT-Now!, said it would not be right to increase fares just to alleviate the worsening condition of transport workers.

"While fare increases add to the earnings of a transport worker, it decreases the people's purchasing power. Its effects would be detrimental to ordinary consumers," De Guzman said.

The protesters, carrying placards and streamers, asked President Macapagal-Arroyo to provide more subsidies to the poor.

Gasoline prices in the Philippines have risen 14 times since the start of the year, for a total increase of about 24 percent. The pump price for unleaded gasoline is now about P55 per liter from P44.50 in January.

Lagman said the transport sector could not afford to celebrate Philippine Independence Day, which was marked Thursday, because of the situation.

Inflation has surged in the country in recent months.

The Arroyo administration announced plans to increase subsidies to the poor, providing them access to cheaper rice and medicines and distributing P500 cash to two million people to help pay electricity bills. With a report from Reuters

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