[PHOTO AT LEFT - Keeping a close watch. A NAIA health official aims his thermal scanner at a passenger from the US due to fears of another H1N1 outbreak. PHOTO BY JAY CHUA]

MANILA, OCTOBER 27, 2009 (MALAYA) BY REGINA BENGCO - HEALTH Secretary Francisco Duque III said yesterday the government can handle a second wave of the influenza A(H1N1) virus and that vaccines will be available to high-risk groups by December or January.

Duque said there is no evidence of a new wave of flu cases in the Philippines. He said as of October 17, there were 5,212 cases with 30 deaths or a fatality rate of 0.6 percent, which he said is a lot lower than the global ratio of 1.2 percent and the incidence for leptospirosis, dengue, tuberculosis, and malaria.

Globally, the virus has affected almost 415,000 individuals, with 4,999 deaths.

"We are okay. There is nothing to worry about because we have lessons learned and we know what specific measures to do to contain or mitigate the spread of the illness," he said.

Duque said government has set aside P100 million for the purchase of the AH1N1 vaccines.

He said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said supply from abroad is still tight because of the big demand of vaccines in China.

Last Friday, US President Barack Obama declared the outbreak of H1N1 cases as a national emergency matter following the death of at least 1,000 people in the US.

The declaration empowered the US Health and Human Services to suspend federal requirements and, in turn, speed up the treatment of those inflicted with the disease.

Duque expressed belief Obamaís move was more of a pre-emptive measure than anything else. ĖWith Gerard Naval


(MALAYA) OIL companies yesterday warned of a supply shortage if the executive order freezing the price of petroleum products in Luzon is not lifted soon.

In a stakeholderís meeting at the Department of Energy, industry leaders said the price freeze could lead to losses and eventually a slowdown in the replenishment of stocks.

"I presume that it is not illegal if a company stops selling in a particular area because it is losing money," Pilipinas Shell chairman Edgar Chua said.

"What would you consider as serving the higher public interest: Products that are cheap but not available or products that are expensive, reflecting the true cost, but available," Chua said.

"I hope that President Arroyo would reconsider or lift this immediately. It is the supply that is threatened," Fernando Martinez, chief executive officer of Eastern Oil and chairman of the Independent Philippine Petroleum Companies Association, said.

"Itís dangerous when people stop selling," he added.

In Executive Order 839 issued last week, MalacaŮang directed oil companies to keep the prices of petroleum products at October 15 levels until the state of calamity declared in Luzon is lifted.

It cites the Oil Industry Deregulation Law that empowers the Department of Energy to temporarily take over or direct the operation of players in the oil industry in a national emergency.

Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes said oil companies have no choice but comply with the order.

"A presidential issue has been made; there is no question whether people should comply. The real issue here is that the law, an issuance, is made. People would have to comply. Itís not optional, itís mandatory. All of your concerns you can air. You can give them to me. Weíll discuss it again. Weíll refer it to MalacaŮang and thatís the way it goes," he said.

"The law might be hard, but it is the law. And everybody must follow. No exemption," he added.

Oil industry leaders said the price cap on oil products is sending negative signals to investors.

"Chevronís position is that we will comply with the EO. We are looking at our remedies, to see if there are remedies available to us, legal or otherwise. It has set a precedent and it may not send a good signal to our mother company as well as investors in general," said Mark Quebral, Chevron manager for policy, government and public affairs, said.

Martinez said government may intervene only once over-pricing and collusion are proven.

He said that given that there has never been a case filed against any oil company for over-pricing and collusion, there is no reason to freeze prices by citing a nation emergency.

"We are reserving the right to study the legal option because this is very dangerous. This EO is not the way our legal experts see as an implementation of the emergency aspect of the oil deregulation law," he said.

"National emergency necessitates a declaration of Congress. There is supposed to be a process. The DOE-DOJ task force first should find conclusive evidence that there is collusion, that there is cartelization, and that there is over-pricing," he said.

"The good thing the President is able to do is to hold off further increases. However, once it is lifted, I donít think you can stop anybody from getting back what you got," Martinez said.

"Suppose that we go back to October 15 (when the adjustment) was P2. Suppose today there would be another P2 (adjustment). So that is P4. For the purpose of presentation, letís say next week, another P2 is called for. Then, this (EO) is lifted. I hope that when we come up with a P6 increase, there would be no hullabaloo about this," said Flying V president and chairman Ramon Villavicencio.

Earlier, Petron president Eric Recto said that based on company projections, further increases in the price of fuel should be expected as prices internationally continue to go up.

"What we expect is a further strengthening of world market prices like crude. Of course when crude goes up, all related products like gasoline and diesel move accordingly. But to what extent, we donít know," he said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the government would not hesitate to file cases against oil companies that would fail to comply with EO 839.

Ermita said the joint task force of the DOJ-DOE is monitoring compliance. He expressed the hope it would not reach a point that the two departments would have to revisit the books of the oil companies and be forced to take legal action.

Ermita enjoined the big oil companies led by Petron, which is partially owned by the government, to take the lead in maintaining the prices fuel and other petroleum products at the October 15 level.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera defended the legality of EO 839. She said the order is in accord with R.A. 8479, the Downstream Oil Industry Deregulation Act of 1998, which confers upon the Department of Energy the authority to temporarily take over or direct the operations of any person or entity engaged in the industry in time of national emergency, when public interest so requires.

Devanadera said freezing the oil prices is not tantamount to controlling of prices.

"Pwedeng i-take over ng national government or to direct the operations, but we never order to control prices. If you look at the EO, itís temporary in nature, addresses specific concerns and specific areas," she said.

Devanadera said the oil companies which have questioned the validity of the EO should just respond to the calamities and its devastating effect on people, rather than point to oil prices in the world market.

Senators called on the "Big Three" in the oil industry to slash the prices of their petroleum products and follow independent player Unioil Petroleum Philippines.

Unioil cut the pump prices of its petroleum products in response to a Palace directive to maintain oil prices in Luzon while it remained in a state of calamity.

Unioil cut the prices of diesel by P2 a liter, unleaded gasoline by P1.25, regular gasoline by 85 centavos, and kerosene by P1.50.

Unioil said its maximum retail prices for Metro Manila is P28.04 a liter for diesel, P37.44 for premium gasoline, P36.94 for unleaded gasoline, P36.86 for regular gasoline, P36.34 for its E10 variant, and P41 for kerosene.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the price cuts of Unioil are proof that other oil companies could also carry out a one-time rollback without affecting their profits.

Senate minority leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said Unioil should be praised for setting a precedent.

Sen. Loren Legarda said since oil players pay the same taxes and have about the same procurement costs, she sees no reason why Chevron, Shell and Petron cannot reduce their prices substantially.

Former planning secretary Ralph Recto said prices of petroleum products are overpriced by P8. Ė John Poquiz,Jocelyn Montemayor, Evangeline de Vera and JP Lopez

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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