Rejecting calls from candidates and consumer groups, the Department of Finance insists that the distribution of targeted relief to the bottom 50% of Filipino families would be a much better option for the government than the suspension of the excise tax on fuel products.
DOF Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the suspension of the excise tax would only benefit the rich who own the cars that guzzle gasoline and diesel.
Instead, he stated, the P26 billion that the government would earn from the higher fuel prices should be allocated for P200 monthly conditional cash transfers to the poor families for an entire year.
The offer has been labeled a pittance, like change given to beggars on the sidewalk.
For an ordinary housewife, the P200 would not last a week even if used only for the impact of the fuel price hikes on common expenses.
In the capital town of Virac, for example, tricycle fares are set to rise to P20 for a single passenger and P15 for two or more passengers for routes within the población.
Thus, the P200 given to the commuter would only be good for 20 trips, assuming you only use it to address the P5 increase.
Assuming one goes to the market twice a week, you would have only 12 trips left for other errands, to the drug store, the bank and others. You would not have enough for the fares of your child to the school, even if face-to-face classes are only thrice a week.
Clearly, the P200 cash aid would not be enough.
In this time of deregulated fares and fees, the rising fuel prices has opened the floodgates for producers and manufacturers of every basic commodity to increase their prices.
Already, the ferry companies servicing the Tabaco-Virac route have already raised the fees charged on vehicles, from private vehicles to transport buses and cargo trucks, loaded on their ships.
Vegetables, many of which come from Benguet, have become pricier and so will canned goods and ordinary household items.
Transport fares will be next, along with power bills, if the price of fuel in the international market continues to rise as a result of a protracted war in Ukraine.
All these would have to be borne by everyone, but more so by the low-income families who will have to scrimp on expenses just to have something to eat three times a day.
So, how would this issue play out in the coming 45-day campaign of local candidates?
Probably we would not hear much from the mouths of incumbents and their opponents when they come on stage.
They cannot do anything about it anyway, unless they are chief executives who actually have the power to institute price controls if necessary.
“Kasal-an ni Putin kaya galangkaw an presyo ning barakalon,” they could reason out.
In their private moments, politicians running in the May 9, 2022 elections are likely rubbing their hands in anticipation.
In these times of crisis, the power of money is at its strongest.
And who among those being buffeted by the impact of oil prices, especially the poor who constitute majority of voters, can resist the temptation of selling their votes for five hundred or a thousand pesos?
Most likely, very few.
Woe to well-meaning candidates who have only their integrity, knowledge and experience as their assets.
The May 9 local elections are shaping up to be a battle for votes among mucho-dinero bets, not unlike political exercises of the past three decades.
The make-up of voters may have changed, and so have the candidates, with the Verceleses and Albertos almost gone.
But how elections are done in the Happy Island have remained the same.
Is everyone really happy about it?