MANILA, August 16, 2005
 (STAR) By Aurea Calica - It’s belt-tightening time.

A looming energy crisis that is expected to give the country’s economy yet another beating calls for a basic change in the Filipino lifestyle, President Arroyo said Sunday night.

Apart from the usual adoption of energy conservation measures to survive the economic difficulties, the President said the public should rethink its daily activities and start reducing energy consumption.

And the use of mass transportation or even bicycles are options that need to be seriously considered.

Earlier, Mrs. Arroyo had urged the public to walk instead of taking short rides if their destination is nearby.

Other little things, the President said — like using fluorescent instead of incandescent bulbs, practicing car-pooling and shutting off unnecessary electrical appliances — must be heeded. "For every $3 increase in oil prices, we lose $1.26 billion in our foreign exchange reserves," the President said.

Mrs. Arroyo also called on the citizenry to break partisan bickering and focus the nation’s energy on the oil and power crisis at hand.

"Today, we face not only domestic controversies but also an oil crisis of global proportions compounded by a global resurgence of terrorism," the President noted during a speech at the change of command ceremony of the Armed Forces at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City yesterday.

She also said that under an executive order just issued, the government and its agencies would lead the energy conservation drive by working to reduce their consumption of fuel and electricity by 10 percent.

Instead of using private planes and watercraft for government travel, the President said commercial flights and less-expensive cruises could be taken instead.

The President said government vehicles that are heavy gas consumers would be sold and replaced with more cost-efficient vehicles.

Mrs. Arroyo also announced that vehicles using alternative and renewable and indigenous fuels would be given priority in granting public transportation franchises.

She said this was part of the government’s aggressive promotion of the use of alternative fuels to reduce dependence on imported oil. The President further directed the Department of Science and Technology to look for other renewable and indigenous fuels.

She appealed to businesses to reduce oil and electricity consumption, modify working hours, and implement efficiency measures in their operations.

"They should be able to strengthen productivity while saving on energy," Mrs. Arroyo said.

The President said all countries, even the most progressive ones dependent on imported oil, would not be spared by the spiraling crude oil prices.

"Everyone is putting up measures to cushion the impact on vulnerable sectors," she said.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) has also vowed to do its part in observing austerity measures.

"Car pooling, minimizing the use of air-conditioning and computers are among the initial measures to be implemented inside Camp Crame and other police stations in the entire country," said PNP Chief Directorial Staff (CDS) Deputy Director General Avelino Razon Jr.

In offices, Razon said operation of air conditioning will be restricted to 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. only. Air-conditioning units and lights must be turned off at lunchtime. — With Cecille Suerte Felipe

Labor group warns of massive layoffs By Mayen Jaymalin The Philippine Star 08/16/2005

A labor group warned yesterday that many businesses may close down and mass employee layoffs could take place unless the government takes immediate action to address the looming oil crisis.

The moderate Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), the country’s largest labor confederation, said workers and their families need appropriate protection from the adverse economic effects of the oil crisis.

"Government must call for a national conference to cushion the impact of the oil crisis on the workers and their families, who are the ones being hit the most by the problem," the TUCP said.

The price of crude oil recently skyrocketed to a record high of $67 per barrel, prompting President Arroyo to study the possibility of suspending the implementation of some provisions of the expanded value-added tax (EVAT) law to alleviate the crisis.

A Malacañang official earlier said that Mrs. Arroyo had sought legal opinions on suspending the expanded VAT on power and oil if the Supreme Court lifts its temporary restraining order on the tax law.

The law would impose a 10-percent VAT on goods and services previously exempt from the tax, including power producers and oil companies.

The TUCP urged Congress to enact a bill providing for the temporary exemption of power companies and petroleum products from the EVAT, saying it "is necessary at this time to save the people from extreme hardship, even only for the meantime while the country is facing the crisis."

The TUCP said many companies were forced to close shop and thousands of workers were displaced after the country was hit by a worldwide oil crisis in the 1970s.

To prevent this scenario from being repeated, the TUCP said the government must work together with employers and workers to draft an acceptable action plan to counter the effects of the oil crisis. — With Christina Mendez

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved