(STAR) A worker stacks sacks of charcoal for sale along Andaya Highway in Camarines Sur yesterday. The tight supply and rising price of LPG are forcing poor families to use charcoal for cooking. Edd Gumban President Arroyo ordered the Department of Energy (DOE) and other concerned government agencies yesterday to do a better job in ensuring a stable supply of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG).

“The President has ordered the concerned agencies to be on top of the situation, look closely into this (LPG shortage),” Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said.

“We will deploy all resources of government to address the situation,” he said.

Remonde issued the statement after combined operatives of the DOE and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) seized on Friday more than 2,000 LPG tanks allegedly hoarded in a warehouse in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes and his subordinates have been under fire in the past weeks from the public and lawmakers for failing to prevent the shortage of cooking gas despite his repeated pronouncements of swift action on the problem.

“These actions (to ensure LPG supply) are ASAP. The people cannot wait in line for LPG,” Remonde said of Mrs. Arroyo’s directive.

Mrs. Arroyo earlier imposed a two-week deadline on Reyes and other agencies to resolve the LPG shortage.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said there is a need to set a “time line so appropriate steps would be taken.”

“Give us another two weeks. If the problem is not abated, we will call the Department of Energy to task,” he said.

Malacañang warned suspected LPG hoarders could face charges of economic sabotage, which carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, for his part, has ordered the NBI to help the DOE in tracking down suspected LPG hoarders.

Sectors are blaming LPG hoarding as the cause of continuing increase in the prices of the cooking gas in Metro Manila even as Secretary Reyes made assurance that there is no LPG shortage in the country.

Reyes said the supply of LPG should normalize tomorrow with the reported delivery of 23,000 metric tons.

But consumers continue to complain about the difficulty of purchasing LPG from dealers who are claiming shortage in supply.

On top of the shortage in LPG, dealers are selling P100 above the average price.

Last Friday’s seizure by the NBI of the LPG tanks in the Manila warehouse virtually confirmed suspicions of hoarding by several retailers in an apparent attempt to control the prices of LPG even as prices of crude oil in the world market continued to decline.

NBI Director Nestor Mantaring said they have additional reports of some traders hoarding LPG stocks in Metro Manila.

The NBI is helping the DOE monitor the supply of LPG in the market amid complaints of shortage of the cooking gas.

Even local officials are exerting efforts to monitor the situation.

Caloocan City Mayor Enrico Echiverri, for his part, warned retailers in the city against hoarding LPG stocks.

Echiverri said he received numerous complaints of LPG shortage and some retailers taking advantage of the situation.

He said the only reason why LPG is scarce is because some unscrupulous traders are hoarding their stocks in the attempt to dictate prices. – Paolo Romero, Pete Laude

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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